Dillon Sterling-Cole joins rare company in first career start

Behind the arm of Arizona State freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole, ASU threw for over 300 yards for the second time this season.

Despite crucial mistakes, Arizona State freshman quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole showed flashes of strong long-term potential in his first career start.

Against Oregon on Saturday, Sterling-Cole finished the game 21-for-38 for 302 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown and three interceptions after starting the first half 7-for-14 passing for 98 yards, one rushing touchdown and one interception. 

It is the second time this season ASU has thrown for over 300 yards in a single game _ first time in conference. ASU sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins threw for 351 yards against Texas Tech on Sept. 10. 

ASU finished the night with 329 passing yards after junior running back Kalen Ballage threw the ball twice out of the Sun Devils' "Sparky" formation. One was more important than the other --  a three-yard touchdown score to ASU senior tight end Kody Kohl with 6:39 left in the fourth quarter to pull the Oregon lead down to five points, 40-35. 

"I was really proud of Dillon, even though we turned the ball over three times," ASU head coach Todd Graham said. "I was very proud of him and how he played."

Sterling-Cole's three turnovers were "the difference in the game," according to Graham, yet ASU junior linebacker Marcus Ball said it was the Sun Devils' offense that kept ASU in the game late in the second half. 

"On defense obviously we didn't execute as well as we should have as well as obviously get the win," Ball said. "I believe our offense, with the turnovers they had, I believe our offense did great job and they obviously kept us in the game." 

Sterling-Cole's first interception was picked off by Maulana Apelu with 33 seconds left in the second quarter, and Oregon subsequently scored on its following possession, widening Oregon's lead to 30-14 with nine seconds remaining in the half.

The young quarterback's second turnover of the night proved to be the most crucial for the Sun Devils. Down 47-35 with 3:52 left in the fourth quarter at Oregon's one-yard line, Oregon defensive back Tyree Robinson picked off Sterling-Cole and returned the interception to ASU's 15-yard line. Oregon junior running back Royce Freeman scored on the subsequent Oregon possession. 

"I think personally he (Sterling-Cole) did a great job," Ballage said. "Did a lot of preparing during the week and a lot of stuff after hours that he did have to come up and watch extra film and do a lot of extra things and I think he played great for all the stuff that has been going on around here." 

Sterling-Cole is ASU's fourth-string quarterback, with Graham giving him the starting nod after ruling Wilkins “doubtful” for Oregon on Friday. Wilkins did not suit up for the Sun Devils on Saturday. 

Wilkins was injured right before the second half of ASU’s game against USC on Oct. 1. Wilkins started ASU’s games against Colorado and Washington State, but was injured again in the first quarter of ASU’s 37-32 loss to Washington State. 

ASU redshirt freshman quarterback Brady White is out for the year after injuring his foot in ASU's game against UCLA when he played in place of an injured Wilkins. Redshirt freshman quarterback Bryce Perkins suffered a neck injury before the season started and hasn't been practicing since early August. 

Graham said he thought the Sun Devils would have to put in ASU's fifth-string quarterback, freshman Jack Smith, after he was told Sterling-Cole was banged up a bit in the first half. Sterling-Cole left the game limping after the Sun Devils' last offensive snap. 

"I've never been to my fourth-team quarterback," Graham said. "I thought we were going to get to our fifth-team quarterback. Dillon was out for a few plays, at least they reported that to me at some point in the second quarter, but no, that's part of it. That's football. That's this time of year. Hopefully in the off week we can get guys back." 

Sterling-Cole was the fifth true freshman to start at quarterback in ASU history. Current Houston Texans' starting quarterback Brock Osweiler was the last ASU freshman to start at quarterback for the Sun Devils, and he did so in 2009.

ASU has now lost three-straight games and all three have come in conference-play. The Sun Devils have a bye week next week, a time Graham said he is hoping ASU will take to get its players healthy. Following the bye week, ASU will play its last home game of the season, a Thursday night contest against Utah on Nov. 10. 

"I think we are going to turn this thing around and play good football," Ballage said. "I have no concerns." 

Notes

  • Ball finished the game leading the team with 14 tackles, and Ball also had a fumble recovery in the second half and returned the ball 45 yards downfield. Ball's 14 tackles is the most since former ASU safety Jordan Simone had 13 against Washington State last season. 
  • Sophomore defensive lineman Joseph Wicker had three tackles for loss against Oregon, a new career high.
  • The Sun Devils had 10 tackles for loss against the Ducks, after coming in averaging 7.6 tackles for loss per game. Last week against Washington State, ASU had 11 tackles for loss, its season-high. 
  • ASU gave up 734 yards of total offense to Oregon on Saturday. In ASU's 61-55 triple-overtime loss to the Ducks last year at Sun Devil Stadium, ASU put up 742 yards of total offense. 

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