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ASU played a record-breaking amount of freshmen in Week 1

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards answers questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

When quarterback Jayden Daniels ducked under center for the first time at Arizona State on Thursday, two other freshmen lined up to block for him.

ASU’s youth movement was in full swing in Week 1 against Kent State, as 25 freshmen (true and redshirt) got into the game. That is the most in school history during the modern era (1972). Even head coach Herm Edwards jokingly asked “who are these guys” in his postgame press conference.

Not all of the newcomers were planned to have as big of roles as they had, especially on the offensive line.

Senior center Cade Cote was scratched from the lineup due to a broken foot he sustained in practice prior to opening night. So, four freshmen linemen played on Thursday, with Dohnovan West taking over as the starting center less than three months after graduating high school.

Senior tackle Zach Robertson is still not with the team due to personal reasons, so the young line that was on display in Week 1 will be what ASU has to work with for the foreseeable future.

“That’s who we got,” Edwards said. “They’re going to play next week too, we are going to keep playing them. We are trying to build a program. As the season goes on they’ll be a lot better and by the end of the season, they will be even better. We have no one else to play. These are the guys.”

The line struggled in its first game together to protect Daniels. The young quarterback was sacked five times and had to scramble to create more space.

Daniels showed great poise, even when under pressure, but ASU’s inability to block consistently against a lower-level opponent was a concern, especially since that line will be facing an elite Michigan State defense in Week 3.

“When you have two guys starting next to each other as freshmen, that’s going to be tough,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “I bet they played really hard. They’ll learn from this. I think you’ll see a big jump.”

On defense, freshmen were sprinkled everywhere, but most prominently in the secondary. Redshirt freshman defensive back Cam Phillips was the only one that started, but seven others either recorded a tackle or deflected a pass to aid ASU in holding Kent State to seven points. Phillips shined the brightest, though, with five tackles and a fumble recovery.

Another newcomer who stood out was “Captain America” Ethan Long. The special teams captain and fourth-string quarterback lined up in ASU’s Sparky package (otherwise known as the Wildcat) three times and ran for 21 yards. His biggest play was a 16-yard rush that set the Sun Devils up at the KSU nine yard-line, which led to a score two plays later. The ASU coaches didn’t choose to unleash his throwing potential in Week 1, but Likens noted it is a possibility going forward.

“We didn’t do it tonight, but he’s a quarterback, he can throw it,” Likens said. “We can run our whole offense with him back there.”

Having to count on younger players in key positions will have its growing pains, but ASU still managed to win its first matchup handily. The next step is to play a cleaner game in Week 2 against Sacramento State before the Sun Devils’ big test at MSU.

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