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Arizona State needs offensive line to grow up in a hurry

TEMPE, AZ - AUGUST 29: Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) throws a pass during the college football game between the Kent State Golden Flashes and the Arizona State Sun Devils on August 29, 2019 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Herm Edwards doesn’t mind playing the young guy. He’s made that pretty clear. And he was more than willing to go into the 2019 campaign with a true freshman at quarterback – something the Sun Devils had never done before.

He probably didn’t expect the guy snapping the ball to that quarterback to be a freshman as well, though. But that’s the reality for ASU right now.

That’s because projected center Cade Cote suffered a broken foot before the Devils’ opener against Kent State last week, forcing Dohnovan West into emergency duty just a few months removed from graduating high school. Sure, senior Cohl Cabral has plenty of experience at the position. He could’ve slid over. But he’s been focusing all his energy on transitioning to left tackle. So it didn’t exactly seem efficient to switch him back at the last second.

“No thoughts at all about moving him,” Edwards noted on Monday. “There was a conversation, but then we’d go ‘well now, he’s practiced there the whole offseason, and now we’re going to move him back?’ We just said the guy of the future is [West], so let’s let him play. And he did a really good job as far as protection goes, as far as moving people. He’s very competitive.”

On the surface, that seems like pretty sound logic. If West is ultimately going to be the guy anyway, why not have him get his growing pains out of the way now, instead of a year from now?

But there’s obviously some risk involved here too. Between West and Jayden Daniels, that’s a lot of inexperience for the first two Sun Devils that touch the ball on every single offensive play. It’s virtually unprecedented.

“Think about this,” Edwards pointed out. “You’ve got a freshman quarterback – knock on wood now – and a freshman center. There weren’t any bad handoffs. There were no bad snaps. I say that – doggone it, I shouldn’t have said it – but that’s the first thing you worry about.

“He was very comfortable. And that’s what we saw. We saw that in practice. And I got to the point, I said, ‘Just start him. Don’t mess around. Just start the kid, and let him go.’”

Of course, if there is a botched snap against Sacramento State on Friday, it’s definitely going to be brought up in the postgame now. But that’s not really the point.

The fact that ASU got through the first game of both Daniels’ and West’s college careers without issue is something to build off of. Because it’s not like Cote is coming back in the next couple weeks.

Put another way, the Devils don’t have much of a choice here, so they need to make the best of the situation. There were plenty of encouraging elements from their 30-7 victory over Kent State on Thursday, but the revelation that they suddenly have a very inexperienced offensive line – the position where chemistry and communication are absolutely imperative – definitely raised some concerns for fans in maroon and gold. Particularly with a trip to East Lansing less than two weeks away.

Offensive coordinator Rob Likens thinks West did more than just survive his debut though. He thrived.

“Sometimes you don’t get the proper picture,” Likens explained. “You think something’s going on that’s really not. During the game, I had thought that he was getting beat in some certain things, and he wasn’t. I watched the film and I thought, for a freshman – for his situation and what he did – we couldn’t have asked for anything better than what he did.

“That was absolutely amazing. I now have so much faith in that kid. I don’t look at him as a liability or anything like that at all. I look at him as a plus and I look at him as a future All-Conference center. I really do. That was amazing.”

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