In two of Arizona State's last three home games against UCLA, backup quarterbacks have played critical roles, and after an injury to ASU starter Manny Wilkins on Saturday at USC, backup quarterback Brady White could make his first career start against the Bruins this weekend.
In 2010, Brock Osweiler came off the bench to replace Steven Threet in a 55-34 victory over the Bruins while Mike Bercovici earned his first career start against UCLA in a 62-27 loss after an injury sidelined then-starter Taylor Kelly in 2014.
After Wilkins was knocked in the second quarter against USC, White led the ASU offense for the final 30 minutes of a 41-20 loss.
ASU head coach Todd Graham expressed confidence in both Wilkins and White during their battle for the starting job during fall camp, and Graham re-iterated his thoughts after White earned the first extensive action of his career against USC.
“Great confidence, and Brady’s a guy who is interesting,” Graham said. “I’ve talked to him every week about it. I’ve talked to him and Dillon (Sterling-Cole) and all of those guys. I mean, you’re one play from being in the game. I do think he was prepared when he got in the game. It’s tough in those games, because each quarterback is different. So, you want to adapt to what the strengths of each one of them are. I thought he did a really nice job. He’s a guy that watches a ton of film. He’s very dependable. High character guy, very smart. He did a really good job. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
Graham said Wilkins' X-rays came back negative and said he's already out of a walking boot, but wasn't sure if Wilkins would be available for Saturday's contest against the Bruins.
White finished 6-for-13 for 80 yards against the Trojans and tossed his a 13-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Raymond Epps in the fourth quarter.
If Wilkins can't play Saturday, Graham indicated true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole will be dressed as White’s backup.
“We’ve been preparing him,” Graham said of Sterling-Cole. “Obviously Brady is our two guy, and (Sterling-Cole) is our three guy. So, we’ve been preparing as well as we are preparing for a fourth (quarterback). Depending on how quick Manny recovers, we’ll get guys ready that need to get ready.”
Tackling issues persist against USC
Graham said the Sun Devils' coaching staff will need to continuously work on fundamentals with its defense as ASU’s angles on tackles and ability to finish plays have cost the team greatly.
On Saturday, ASU's tackling issues and coverage breakdowns forced Graham to adjust the Sun Devils' defensive personnel, especially in the secondary where junior Bandit safety J'Marcus Rhodes struggled.
It’s gotten to the point where even players who are not 100 percent healthy yet will have to try to make a difference in the back level of ASU’s defense where they lack good technique across the board.
If ASU's personnel in the secondary continues to struggle, it's possible true freshman Kyle Williams could end up playing at bandit safety as well.
Like Hayes who transitioned from offense to defense last season, Williams moved over from wide receiver to safety at the conclusion of fall camp. Though Williams possesses great athleticism, Graham views the transition to the defensive side of the ball as a difficult one.
“It’s hard, it’s just like the same transition for a guy like Gump (Hayes),” Graham said. “I mean he’s never played corner in his life. We’ve had injuries and things like that. Guys like Maurice Chandler we expected to play. Mo is starting to get healthy. That’s been tough. It’s just hard for a person who has not played that position. There’s just so much stuff to learn. Kyle’s doing a great job learning, and he’s going to be a great player for us. It’s just getting him ready where he can compete and be ready to play in a game.”
Since 2012, Graham’s Sun Devils have only lost six games inside Sun Devil Stadium, where ASU is already 3-0 this season.
Last week, Pac-12 schools finished 6-0 at home.
On Monday, Graham emphasized the importance of winning home games for the purposes of remaining in contention in the Pac-12, especially in a wide open South Division.
“You better play well at home,” Graham said. “That’s the one thing we’ve been able to do. We’ve always for the last four, four and a half years we’ve played really, really well out here. And you have to win at home. You better win them all at home if you want to compete in this league. And then we’ve got to play better on the road than what we’ve played. That’s the reality, you have to be able to go on the road and win. We haven’t done very well the first few times out, but we can’t worry about that. We have to figure out a way to go beat a very, very good UCLA team at home here. We need our fans. We need them loud and proud for this one, because we want to really impact their offense coming in and making it loud for them.”null