Jayden Daniels sharp in opening game as young Sun Devils rout Kent State
TEMPE — The hype train surrounding true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels rolls on in the Valley.
At least for another week.
The young QB was as advertised Thursday night, helping the Sun Devils knock off the Kent State Golden Flashes 30-7 in ASU’s home opener.
Daniels went to work on Kent State, recording 284 yards and two touchdowns on 15 of 24 passing. He also added 13 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts on the ground in front of the 47,413 in attendance.
“I am very pleased with what [Daniels] did,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said after the game. “He had pressure, he did not have any foolish turnovers. I thought he did very well securing the football … so I thought he did a great job.”
It didn’t take long for Daniels to show off his big-play abilities.
After missing on his first pass attempt of the game, Daniels went back to the air on a third-and-long situation, connecting with Frank Darby down the sideline for 42 yards.
The Sun Devils’ drive stalled, however, ending in a 35-yard field goal by redshirt sophomore Christian Zendejas.
The opening drive made up most of the offense for ASU in the first as the Sun Devils had a three-and-out before a Kent State fumble gave the team a short field with about six minutes left to play in the quarter.
Starting the drive at Kent State’s 31-yard line, the trio of Daniels, junior running back Eno Benjamin and freshman Ethan Long — a.k.a Captain America — proved lethal against the Golden Flashes defense.
“You know what he does? He brings a lot of energy,” Likens said of Long. “He’s our special teams captain, so when he runs out onto the field he just has a presence that kid.
“And he’s a tough runner, and I know he can go in there and run in between the tackles and get the hard yards.”
The three combined for 26 yards from scrimmage, highlighted by a Long 16-yard scamper on third down, before Daniels connected with Benjamin for the eight-yard score, marking the team’s first touchdown of the season.
Benjamin, who dominated on the ground last season, is expected to have a greater role in the passing game as head coach Herm Edwards looks to utilize the running back’s skillset.
All told, Benjamin finished with 102 yards on 22 carries, and added another 32 yards and the score on three catches.
But even with the early success, ASU only led 10-0 at the half.
Much of that can be attributed to it being the Sun Devils’ first look at live action, miscues on both sides of the ball, injuries in the starting lineup and the fact that a total of 14 true freshmen and 11 redshirt freshmen played throughout Thursday’s contest.
“It’s a special moment for me just going out there and getting my first college win, but there’s a lot that we need to improve on,” Daniels said. “I can’t be too content with the win because there’s a lot we to improve on, myself, receivers, running backs, the whole offense has to improve on a lot of things.”
But as the night progressed, Daniels continued to pick up yards in bunches, completing eight passes for 10 yards or more throughout the evening.
The most electric, however, came in the third quarter.
Up 20-0 about midway through the quarter, Daniels took over on his own 28-yard line.
After taking a sack, Daniels went right back to slinging the rock, connecting with senior wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk for the 77-yard touchdown. The score marked Aiyuk’s longest touchdown of his career as he, and the other wideouts on the roster, work to fill the receiving void left behind by N’Keal Harry.
“Aiyuk’s big play was spectacular,” Edwards said of the big play. “That was a spectacular catch and run. That something that N’Keal would do.”
Aiyuk had a strong home opener, catching four balls for 140 yards and a score.
It was a welcome sight for a team that saw a drop-off in production in the third quarter just a year prior.
“I thought the third quarter was important for us,” Edwards said. “That was a quarter for us last year that we really didn’t do a lot … for some reason. We talked about it at halftime that we needed to run the football in the third quarter and score.”
And while Edwards wasn’t entirely pleased with the amount of precision on display Thursday night, a win’s a win.
“There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, but it’s fun when you win,” Edwards said. “When you win it’s a lot of fun for the kids sitting in the film room. They don’t take the criticism so hard, so I told them ‘hey, we got a lot to work on.'”
Up next, the Sun Devils host Sacramento State at 7 p.m. next Friday. Catch all the action live on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.