Sterling-Cole settling into playing role with benefit of game reps

It's still undetermined who will start at quarterback for Arizona State on Saturday at Oregon, but freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole is continuing to progress due to playing experience.

At some point on Saturday, Arizona State's home sideline began to resemble a triage unit during the team's 37-32 loss to Washington State. 

Late in the first quarter, ASU's starting sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins was injured and joined fellow signal callers Brady White and Bryce Perkins on the bench, or more specifically, a trainer's table. 

Wilkins sat next to White on one table, with White's injured left foot in a heavy cast and crutches at the ready nearby. Some yards away, Perkins looked on while still wearing the neck brace he's been in for the last 10 weeks. 

From their spots, the three quarterbacks had a good vantage at the first extended college action of true freshman quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole. It probably wasn't what any of the three had hoped to be doing in October, but things don't always go as planned. 

The Houston native completed 7 of 16 passes for 86 yards, and got better as the night progressed. The passes that were delivered with too much velocity and not enough accuracy early on from Sterling-Cole became increasingly accurate and better paced as he settled in. 

"I thought as the game went on he got more and more comfortable," ASU offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. "What's funny about the whole thing -- not funny but kind of odd -- is the things I thought he'd do really well are the things he didn't do as well in, and the things I thought he might struggle at are the things he did really well. So you just never know. At the end of the day he put in a lot of time last week and prepared himself to be ready to play and I think that showed."

Lindsey put together a game plan for Sterling-Cole that included a lot of designed roll outs in order to give him ample time to read the field. But for whatever reason, Sterling-Cole actually made his better throws when operating in the pocket, including two explosive plays completed to wide receiver and fellow true freshman N'Keal Harry. The throws Lindsey thought would be easy, weren't, and the ones that should have been harder, were better executed. 

In a weird way, that could be a better sign for the long term prognosis of Sterling-Cole, a quarterback with a big arm and impressive physical presence. 

"You've got to keep your hands up and ready, because that thing is humming," sophomore wide receiver Jalen Harvey said of the velocity on Sterling-Cole's passes. "It was good to see him find himself, because he's a freshman quarterback and that's a lot on a player sometimes. But just the players around him kept him motivated and you could see through the game he started finding himself.

"I think he was a little juiced up. I had to tell him, you're gonna to have to have to ease it up a little bit. There's passes you can dump it off really quick."

Making things even tougher on the young quarterback, ASU was starting a new center for the first time, and a walk-on at that. Junior Tyler McClure was playing in place of junior A.J. McCollum, who was away from the team for personal reasons. The Sun Devils also were forced to move redshirt freshman Zach Robertson into the starting lineup at right tackle and slide sophomore Quinn Bailey from right tackle to right guard due and senior Stephon McCray from right guard to left guard due to an ankle injury to starting left guard Sam Jones

"It definitely comes with a new quarterback or younger quarterback, or a not experienced quarterback," Robertson said, when asked about taking extra care for a newcomer at the position. "You've got to kind of work around his needs and tailor your game to him. Dillon is a good passer. He has a very strong arm. He can throw the ball really hard. I think just buying him more time...we just have to do that." 

It's still not clear whether Wilkins will be able to play this Saturday at Oregon, or if Sterling-Cole will become the team's third player to start a game this season at quarterback. 

"[Wilkins is] doing well," Lindsey said. "He's trying to do everything he can do to be ready, just like he did last week. It's proof that he'll get himself ready, I think, and be available. That's what we're hoping.

"If [Sterling-Cole's] number is called, I think he'll play even better this week, I hope."


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