TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State’s blowout loss to Oregon on its own no doubt took a physical and mental toll, but that defensive tackle Will Sutton was injured on the game’s second play and did not return certainly made matters worse.
A positive report on Sutton’s right knee injury from the team medical staff on Friday, however, raised the Sun Devils’ spirits a good deal.
“I’ll tell you, it was good because I didn’t expect it,” coach Todd Graham said Sunday. “It didn’t look good, but the symptoms didn’t match the MRI results.”
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While the reaction after Thursday’s game seemed to indicate that Sutton could be lost for the season, the MRI brought good news. ASU has not disclosed the specific nature of the injury or the results of the MRI but has designated Sutton as week to week.
Sutton, ASU’s leader in tackles for loss and sacks, dressed for practice Sunday but did not participate in contact drills. He spent practice observing or working out on the sidelines — great progress considering he left the field on crutches Thursday.
“It was good to see him out here dressed out today and working hard,” Graham said. “Hopefully (the training staff) can do some magic and get him back.”
It’s still unclear exactly how much time the junior might miss. Perhaps it’s a game or two, perhaps three or four, but Sutton’s motivation to get back as soon as possible is obvious to the coaches.
“It’s not going to be long term, because we’re not going to let it be a long-term deal,” co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said. “I said, ‘You running yet?’ I ask him that about every two minutes. But he wants to get back. He’s working his tail off and I expect to see him back. I expect to see him running here in a couple days — that’s me.
“He’s excited about working to get back, no question about it, and we’re going to be fired up when he’s back.”
In the meantime, Randolph must determine how to make up for Sutton’s absence, however long it may be. Juniors Jake Sheffield and Gannon Conway appear to be the immediate solutions, with defensive end Davon Coleman an option as well.
The challenge, however, is that the players behind Sutton have minimal game experience this season, as Sutton played nearly every snap before the injury.
“Our guys practice every day, they’re in the meetings every day, so they know our system,” Randolph said. “We feel confident in each player, the next guy in, is going to know he’s committed to the team and know what he’s supposed to do.”
The challenge of fortifying the defensive line has been lessened by the news that defensive end Junior Onyeali’s shoulder injury, also suffered Thursday, will not keep him out of action. Onyeali practiced Sunday in a green “no contact” jersey.
“Junior’s not going to miss time either,” Randolph said. “He’ll be ready to go.”
PENNEL PRACTICING AGAIN
Junior defensive tackle Mike Pennel, on indefinite suspension the last three weeks, returned to practice Sunday with ASU’s scout team. Pennel, who was suspended for failing to meet team standards, has not been reinstated, but Graham said Pennel is on a “plan of improvement” to get back.
“He made it through the day,” Graham said. “We want him to be successful and hope he’s successful.”
Pennel, a junior-college transfer, was also suspended for ASU’s game against Illinois on Sept. 8. His latest suspension came after ASU’s game against Cal, a game in which Pennel did not play and vented on Twitter after.
Should Pennel return, it could help the defensive line hold up until Sutton is able to return. Pennel’s playing status is unclear — Randolph called it a day-to-day situation Sunday — as Pennel has not been practicing with the team lately and was removed from the team’s official online roster.
“He’s just happy to be back with the guys, and we’re happy he’s back with the guys,” Randolph said.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
— Redshirt senior offensive lineman and team captain Andrew Sampson left Thursday’s game with an ankle injury. While Sampson wore a walking boot Sunday and did not participate in contact drills, the injury is not considered serious. Redshirt freshman Vi Teofilo filled in for Sampson on Thursday and drew high praise from Graham on Sunday.
— Junior tight end Chris Coyle wore a no-contact jersey in practice Sunday but afterward said he wore it to give his body a little rest rather than for injury purposes. Freshman running back D.J. Foster and junior spur linebacker Chris Young also wore green Sunday — Young only briefly — but the reasons were not known.
— After going 10 for 18 passing with two interceptions Thursday, sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly’s pass-efficiency rating fell from third in the nation to eighth at 168.0.
— Despite its average dropping from 9.83 per game to 9.43 after Thursday’s game, ASU now leads the nation in tackles for loss. The Sun Devils also rank second nationally in sacks with 4.0 per game.
— Kickoff for ASU’s Nov. 3 game against Oregon State in Corvallis has been set for 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.