Q: Injuries now are a factor for everyone. Who will be the starting QB if Manny Wilkins is not available? If Wilkins is available, what will that mean to ASU’s offense?
A: Wilkins has been very limited in practices since suffering a high ankle sprain against USC on Oct. 1. His backup Brady White suffered a broken foot when starting in the team's next game against UCLA and is out for the season. ASU's third-string quarterback, Bryce Perkins, is still wearing a neck brace from a serious injury he suffered during preseason camp. The Sun Devils only have one healthy scholarship quarterback, true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole.
Wilkins was able to start despite the ankle injury at Colorado on Oct. 15, but had significant mobility limitations, which was really hampering to him because he's very active and moves around a lot, not always by design. ASU had its worst offensive output in years in that game, with 199 total yards. A week later against Washington State, Wilkins again started, and showed better mobility early, but then was hurt again with an unrelated injury to his throwing arm.
For the team's game against Oregon, Wilkins' status is undetermined. Odds are good he tries to play, but he didn't practice in the portion of ASU's segments this week open to reporters. He hasn't practiced fully since September, so being sharp is going to be hard, particularly when he's so banged up. What's key for Wilkins is how much he's able to feel comfortable in the run-pass option elements of ASU's offense, and how capable he is at scrambling.
Sterling-Cole is very talented but also quite early in his development. He's not ready to be a starter in the Pac-12 as yet but he might not have a choice. He has a very good arm, is well put together and can make all the throws in the scheme, though not always accurately. ASU's worked to try to get him more opportunities to read the field longer on designed roll outs.
ASU could also use its so-called "Sparky" formation, which is like a Wildcat direct-snap offense. It did this on 21 of 59 snaps against Washington State, with the ball going go one of its two junior running backs, Kalen Ballage or Demario Richard.
Q: Besides QB, what other positions are affected by the injury bug?
A: It's a pretty long list. The team's leading tackler from last season, senior linebacker Salamo Fiso, suffered a left knee sprain against Washington State and is questionable. The second-leading tackler from last year, linebacker Christian Sam, won't play due to a high ankle sprain suffered in the season opener. Starting field side safety Armand Perry didn't play against Washington State due to turf toe and is questionable for this week. Those are the main three injuries on defense but several other players have been suiting up even while banged up, and several other backups are unlikely to play in this game.
On offense, the team is down two starting offensive linemen, with sophomore left guard Sam Jones in a walking boot for an ankle injury and junior center A.J. McCollum not with the team due to what's been termed personal reasons. He also missed Washington State. ASU's now playing a walk-on at center, Tyler McClure. Junior wide receiver Cameron Smith is coming back from a knee injury that forced him to miss last season, and didn't play last week even though he'd been on the field in all earlier games this year. Senior start wide receiver Tim White has also been hobbled with a leg injury, though he's been playing.
Q: ASU has produced a lot of offense but the defense has given up points and yardage, what are the problems the defensive unit has been facing?
A: Last year the Sun Devils ranked last in pass defense and they're right back there this season. Even though they've generally stopped the run well -- the loss to Colorado notwithstanding -- and rank No. 1 in the Pac-12 in the category, it hasn't really mattered much when going up against teams that have been very successful throwing the football.
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk completed nearly 80 percent of his passes against the Sun Devils, with no interceptions and only three passes defended on 53 attempts. ASU's approach has typically been to try to pressure opposing quarterbacks with a lot of blitz pressure in an effort to get sacks and induce mistakes. Falk was sacked seven times, including three by junior rush end Koron Crump, but ASU missed its one key opportunity to recover a fumble on a Falk fumble.
The ASU secondary has been put in a lot of high pressure man coverage situations by design, and there's been a tendency to have big play breakdowns as a result. That's something to watch in this game, particularly at the field cornerback spot, where De'Chavon Hayes and Maurice Chandler have played, and at field safety is Perry isn't able to play.
Q: This is a make-or-break game for both teams (more so for Oregon) but how is the team attitude coming into the game?
A: ASU's been a pretty resilient team and continued to battle through adversity. Even after giving up 28 straight points to the Cougars last week and trailing by 16 points and down to their final scholarship quarterback and with injuries all across the roster, they battled back and eventually lost 37-32.
I don't really see it as make-or-break for the Sun Devils simply because they're already out of the Pac-12 South race and are so injured that it's not reasonable to have very high expectations. Even so, because they're going against an Oregon team that is having a lot of struggles of its own, it's certainly a very winnable game for the Sun Devils.
Q: Autzen Stadium has been a tough place to play but obviously this year has been a rough one for Oregon, how do you see this game unraveling and a prediction?
A: Really it comes down to Wilkins. If he's able to play pretty effectively (he was moving better against Washington State before the arm injury) and make throws as normal, my pick is ASU in a game that is still reasonable close. If Wilkins doesn't play and the quarterback duties are left to Sterling-Cole, I think Oregon will win by a comfortable margin, though not a blowout.