Too many injuries, not enough defense: 3 big takeaways from ASU's loss to the Oregon Ducks

Posted at 6:12 PM, Oct 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-29 21:24:51-04

It wasn't a lack of effort, but rather a lack of healthy players and talent on defense that led to the Arizona State Sun Devils' third straight defeat.

Without quarterback Manny Wilkins, tailback Demario Richard and eight other starters due to injury, ASU put up a fight but fell 54-35 to the Oregon Ducks in Eugene on Saturday afternoon, dropping the Devils to 5-4 this season and 2-4 in the Pac-12. Oregon, meanwhile, snapped a five-game losing streak.

Here are three big takeaways from Saturday's game.

1. Sterling-Cole shows promise.

Many ASU fans didn't think the Devils stood much of a chance Saturday with Dillon Sterling-Cole making his first career start -- but the true freshman did enough to keep ASU in the thick of things until late in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder threw a pair of late interceptions to seal Oregon's win, but he also completed 21 of 38 passes for 301 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown toss to fellow freshman N'Keal Harry to bring ASU within five points.

Wilkins is the Devils' QB of the future, and health permitting, he'll start when ASU plays its final home game of the season against Utah a week from Thursday. But Sun Devil Nation should be encouraged by the promise Sterling-Cole showed in a hostile environment Saturday afternoon.

2. Kalen Ballage is Mr. Everything.

Without Richard, fellow junior Kalen Ballage stepped up by doing a little bit of everything for the Sun Devils. Ballage, who tied an NCAA record by scoring eight touchdowns against Texas Tech earlier this season, filled up the stat sheet with 62 rushing yards and two touchdowns, six catches for 105 yards, four kickoff returns for 96 yards and a passing touchdown.

And of course, it wouldn't be a game of Sun Devil football without a man leaping over a defender. Ballage was happy to fill in for Wilkins in that department Saturday, as well.

3. The Devils still can't defend the pass.

ASU has by far the worst passing defense in the Pac-12, and the Ducks took advantage of that Saturday. Freshman Justin Herbert threw for 489 yards and four touchdowns against ASU, including 129 yards and two scores to tight end Pharaoh Brown (though it sure looked like Brown's first touchdown shouldn't have counted).

The Sun Devils will look to do better a week from Thursday when they take on the 7-2 Utah Utes, who are just ninth in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game and pass efficiency.