“Going out the tunnel I had butterflies, but after the first snap I was fine.”
That was Jayden Daniels‘ response to the media’s question after Arizona State‘s football victory over Kent State Thursday night, asking the freshman whether he was nervous going into the season opener. The fact that his appearance at quarterback set a new mark in the school’s record books also didn’t seem to bother him. He became the first true freshman to start a season opener for the Sun Devils and just the third freshman to win his first career start.
“I honestly don’t look at those types of things,” he said. “That’s something that I try not to pay attention to out here. These guys don’t treat me like a freshman, they treat me like I’m an upperclassman so sometimes I forget I’m a freshman.”
For the most part, he didn’t look like a freshman, overwhelmed by his first college start. His usual demeanor is one of calm and control, and that carried over to his college debut.
The California import completed 15 of his 24 pass attempts for 284 yards and two total touchdowns, one each passing and running. That also earned him another spot in the program’s record books since the 284 yards eclipsed the old record for passing yards in a first career game, 160 yards by Jeff Krohn during the 2000 season.
While the Sun Devils’ fans were happy they finally got their first up-close look at the young quarterback that arrived in Tempe with high expectations, their team’s performance against Kent State wasn’t particularly memorable.
The Devils got off to a sluggish start in the first half, scoring just 10 points on a team that has won just four games total over the last two seasons, but managing to hold the Golden Flashes scoreless. If it weren’t for the identifying uniforms, it would have been difficult to tell which team belongs in a Power 5 conference.
But the Pac-12 guys put their foot on the gas to open the second half, scoring seven more points on their first possession. Daniels ran wide left and strolled into the end zone untouched from a yard out at the 11:37 mark of the third quarter to cap a 70-yard drive that took nine plays.
Ryan Newsome picked up a fumble by the Kent State quarterback less than a minute later to give the ball back to the Sun Devils and they turned the opportunity into a 31-yard Cristian Zendejas field goal to cap a 31-yard drive. And then Brandon Aiyuk brought the 47,413 fans in Sun Devil Stadium to their feet when he caught a bubble screen pass from Daniels and took it 77 yards to make the score 27-0 and put the game on ice.
Aiyuk finished the night with 140 yards receiving. His 77-yard reception is the longest by an ASU receiver since J.R. Redmond‘s 93-yard run 22 years ago.
Kent State opened the fourth quarter with its only score on a 21-yard pass from Barrett to Isaiah McKoy.
While the Sun Devil offense showed it has plenty of room to improve, especially along the offensive line that allowed five sacks, the defense appeared ready for the season opener. The ASU defense held Kent State to 80 yards passing and just 200 total yards of offense.
An aggressive style of defense forced six fumbles, the most in a single game since the 2009 squad created five against Washington State.
On offense, junior running back Eno Benjamin contributed 134 yards to the effort. His 102 yards rushing is the 10th time he has hit the century mark in his career with the Sun Devils.
And Michael Turk set a new standard for kickers. He averaged 63 yards per punt on five boots, which is the highest average for a single game in school history. That single-game effort broke a mark that has stood for 47 years when Danny White averaged 55 yards on five punts during the 1972 season.
A 75-yard punt by Turk in the fourth quarter is also the longest since a Tim Parker punt covered 75 yards 17 years ago.
ASU has some work to do before meeting up with No. 18-ranked Michigan State in a couple of weeks. But, in all fairness, Coach Herm Edwards played 25 freshmen in the opener, the largest number to play in an ASU game in the modern era.
There is, of course, going to be a learning period for all those newbies. Let’s hope they are all quick learners since that Sept. 14 game in Lansing is just around the corner.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)