Arizona State’s consistent injuries have stockpiled week after week this season, and against Washington, the Sun Devils did not leave unscathed.
Before the game even kicked off on Saturday in Seattle, ASU was hit with another blow to its overall depth.
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jalen Bates went down with leg injury, and head coach Todd Graham said it occurred while Bates was planting during warmups in a pass rush drill.
“He’s out for the season,” Graham said. “Yes, it’s pretty rare. We get warmed up, we’re doing a little pass rush drill and just planted wrong or whatever. Those things happen sometimes.”
At one point during Monday’s press conference, Graham had to ponder who was going to be available for this week due to the extent of injuries that have stacked up for the Sun Devils throughout the past month.
It’s been that kind of year for the Sun Devils, but Graham said Monday that he hopes to have some of the team's injured players like sophomore wide receiver Jalen Harvey and senior offensive lineman Stephon McCray back for ASU's regular season finale against Arizona.
“It’s hard to keep up with some of it, but we had Zach Robertson go down,” Graham said. “He won’t be available this week, but we’re hoping some of the guys like George (Lea) and Stephon (McCray) and those guys we’ll get back. Christian Hill, maybe, Jalen Harvey. Cam Smith won’t be available. I’m trying to think here, it’s a long list.
"We’ll know more about them,” Graham said. “We feel like Gump (Hayes) should be okay, and then Fred (Gammage), just kind of see how he moves around tomorrow. And then Marcus Ball, we expect to be back.”
One area that the Sun Devils have been plagued by injuries almost the entire season is the offensive line. So far, ASU has used at least five different combinations of starters and no fewer than seven total combinations when factoring in in-game substitutions.
In Saturday’s loss, Robertson was injured and then replaced by sophomore Quinn Bailey at right tackle, which provided a significant shakeup because Bailey rotated out from right guard to right tackle.
Junior college transfer A.J. McCollum moved over to right guard from center and walk-on junior center Tyler McClure joined the lineup in McCollum's place. Redshirt freshman Steve Miller and senior Evan Goodman remained the guard and tackle on the left side, respectively.
One of ASU's most important absences is sophomore left guard Sam Jones, who was injured on the final play of ASU's 40-16 loss against Colorado.
Jones has been nursing an ankle injury over the past four weeks, but Graham said that they hoping Jones will be able to play against the Wildcats on Friday.
With game preparation being pushed up by a day due to kickoff being Friday in Tucson, Graham said he will know more on the status of all of his players later in the week.
“I think Sam’s (Jones) been one of the most critical people that’s been out,” Graham said. “It’s really been difficult for us, so hopefully he’ll be able to play. We’re counting on that. We’ll know a lot more after we practice. Being a short week, we had a walk-through today and then we’ll practice Tuesday and Wednesday and walk-through on Thursday, so it’s a little bit different week, but just trying to think of someone else who got hurt in the game.”
Territorial Cup pride runs deep
If becoming bowl-eligible wasn’t enough motivation for ASU, the pride of keeping the Territorial Cup in Tempe will put the Sun Devils into overdrive.
Over the last 10 seasons, the Sun Devils have won six Territorial Cup meetings, including three of the last four matchups. Overall, Arizona leads the Territorial Cup series 48-40-1, but Graham is looking to notch ASU’s 41st victory over the Wildcats.
Graham, who was a part of the last Backyard Brawl game featuring Pittsburgh and West Virginia in 2011, said the passion of ASU's fanbase around its rivalry game is unlike any other rivalry he has participated in.
“I’ve been a part of the Backyard Brawl with Pitt and West Virginia,” Graham said. “This one, I can tell you, there’s not any fans more passionate than ours are about this game. It’s something I always get a lot of emails, messages this week. I’ve already gotten quite a few just saying, ‘Hey, don’t worry about anything in the past. Just go win this game.’ It’s a very, very important game. It’s very passionate."
With Arizona riding a winless conference record into Friday’s game and the Sun Devils looking to reach the six-win bowl eligibility threshold, motivation for a win for both teams is high.
Graham expects Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez to put together his best game plan, and said that’s how it’s usually gone for the Sun Devils when facing off against the Wildcats.
While expectations and implications are relatively low for this year’s Territorial Cup, Graham said the pride associated with the series is not fading.
“The bottom line in a rivalry game is you better get ready,” Graham said. “We’re going to get their best game. Every year that we’ve played them since I’ve been here, we get their best game. And we’re going to get their best game, so we’ve got to be on our best game. We don’t spend a lot of time on somebody that doesn’t have anything to lose or not. You’re going to get everything thrown at you. You’re going to get that team’s best. In my experience in all rivalries games I’ve been a part of, that’s what you’re going to get. Teams are going to play their best and they’re going to have their best game plans. It runs deep. It’s the most intense rivalry game I’ve been a part of.”
- An aspect Graham noted from Saturday’s blowout loss to Washington was the amount of penalties that pushed ASU back to third and long situations throughout the night. In its last two games, ASU has tallied 17 total penalties. Still, ASU is tied with Washington atop the conference for the fewest penalties per game.
- When speaking on ASU’s defensive performance against Washington, Graham said that its main focus was to slow down junior wide receiver John Ross. The explosive plays from Ross were limited, but he still finished with a season-best 12 receptions for 95 yards on the Sun Devils’ secondary.
- Graham said senior linebacker Salamo Fiso — who has only played in six games this season due to a disciplinary suspension and a knee injury — is not 100 percent healthy yet, but he provides stability to the linebacking corp. Graham mentioned Fiso and senior Spur linebacker Laiu Moeakiola as two players who have represented the Sun Devils well during their time with the program.