Arizona State has already used three different quarterbacks this season, and the Sun Devils enter Saturday's game with the possibility of using a fourth different signal-caller.
After sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins suffered an ankle injury against USC, redshirt freshman backup Brady White went down with a season-ending foot injury in the fourth quarter against UCLA on Saturday. With redshirt freshman Bryce Perkins still wearing a neck brace as a result of an injury that took place during fall camp, the Sun Devils were forced to call on freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole in the waning minutes of Saturday's game.
The Sun Devils burned Sterling-Cole's redshirt against the Bruins, and with Wilkins questionable at best for Saturday's contest against the Colorado Buffaloes, Sterling-Cole is in line to make his first collegiate start. If Sterling-Cole were to earn the nod, it would mark the third different starting quarterback the Sun Devils have used in the past three weeks.
"It's unusual you know, but it's also good to have some guys that are competitive and come out to practice and want to compete including Manny (Wilkins)," offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. "Those guys have worked really hard this week and we'll see what happens on Saturday."
Still, another quarterback has emerged as a potential candidate to take reps during Saturday's game, and that's freshman Jack Smith, who began his career with the Sun Devils as a wide receiver before transitioning to a role as a scout team quarterback after Perkins' injury.
"He (Smith) and Dillon both are competing this week and getting reps along with Manny and we're just trying to figure out what gives us the best chance to win Saturday," Lindsey said.
ASU head coach Todd Graham said Monday that he "fully intends" on Wilkins being able to return from injury to play against Colorado, but during practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, Wilkins was limited to light jogging and did not participate in individual or team drills during the portions of practice open to the media.
In 11-on-11 drills Tuesday and 11-on-air drills Wednesday, Sterling-Cole worked with ASU's first-team offense while Smith led the Sun Devils' second-team offense.
On Tuesday, Sterling-Cole struggled in an 11-on-11 drill, throwing multiple incompletions and tossing an interception on a screen pass that ended up in the hands of junior pass rusher Koron Crump. Smith, meanwhile, led a touchdown drive during an 11-on-11 drill at Tuesday's practice that culminated with enthusiastic congratulations on the sidelines from ASU wide receivers' coach Jay Norvell and sophomore wide receiver Jalen Harvey.
After Wednesday's practice, Lindsey said the Sun Devils would not hesitate to use Smith against the Buffaloes on Saturday, and that he possessed many of the qualities Lindsey looks for in a quarterback.
"Jack is very smart, very talented, a coach's son, got all those intangibles and we feel very confident in Jack," Lindsey said.
Sterling-Cole was the lone recruit from ASU's 2016 signing class that the Sun Devils intended to develop as a quarterback, but with injuries plaguing the position, the coaching staff has called on Smith to take additional reps.
Smith played quarterback locally at Mountain Pointe High School, but was recruited to ASU as an athlete.
"Dillon is really talented and he's got a really strong arm and a lot of raw talent," Lindsey said. "Obviously he lacks experience and being the third guy throughout most of the season, probably hasn't got as many reps as you'd like so we're trying to make up for that this week and he's done a really nice job with the reps he's gotten so we'll see how things turn out."
A four-star recruit and a member of the Scout300 for the Class of 2016, Sterling-Cole was one of ASU's highest-rated prospects coming out of high school and initially committed to the program when Mike Norvell was the offensive coordinator.
When Lindsey was hired, he said keeping Sterling-Cole and freshman wide receiver N'Keal Harry committed to the Sun Devils was a top priority for him and head coach Todd Graham.
"It was a great experience, I was excited to meet him, obviously when you're where I was before you don't get the opportunity to recruit a guy like Dillon," Lindsey said. "I enjoyed getting to meet him and his family and he's very talented and Mike (Norvell) had already built a great relationship and my job was to keep that relationship. Coach Graham made it very clear that I could be the shortest-tenured offensive coordinator in the history of the Pac-12 if we lost him and N'Keal so that was important."
In the fourth quarter of Saturday's game, Sterling-Cole was intercepted in the end zone on his lone passing attempt. Graham said the Sun Devils waited to hear about an additional diagnosis on White's injury before burning Sterling-Cole's redshirt, but that once the Sun Devils knew White was out for the game, they inserted Sterling-Cole into the lineup.
"He (Sterling-Cole) was nervous obviously, probably put him in a bad situation when he first came in," Lindsey said. "We wanted to score a touchdown obviously to try to get a little breathing room. At the same time, I thought he handled himself well in one sense where he kind of moved on after that and he was ready to go if we were going to have to go in a two-minute drill because that was something if they had scored, we were going to have to go two-minute drill to try to win."
After Sterling-Cole's interception, ASU used its "Sparky" formation for the remainder of its offensive plays, calling on junior running back Kalen Ballage to handle snaps out of a shotgun formation and preserve a 23-20 lead.
News and notes
- Sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr was not wearing a knee brace Wednesday, but did have a heavy wrap on his right knee. Orr jogged through the injury line during warmups and then worked with an ASU trainer to test his speed. He did not do any aggressive athletic movements and it's likely Orr is questionable at best for Saturday.
- Sophomore safety Armand Perry was wearing cleats Wednesday after wearing running shoes at Tuesday's practice. Like Orr, Perry jogged lightly through the injury line, but Perry then went to Muscle Beach to work with an ASU trainer.
- Neither junior linebacker Christian Sam or redshirt freshman quarterback Brady White was in attendance at practice Wednesday. Sam has been injured since the opening week of the season while White suffered a season-ending injury against UCLA Saturday.