Jayden Daniels has engineered winning drives late in the fourth quarter in three of the six games he’s started. And each time, the true freshman exhibited the poise of a seasoned veteran.
Arizona State‘s contest Saturday against Washington State was one of those games. No. 17 ASU pulled out a come-from-behind victory that wasn’t in the win column until Daniels directed a 10-play, 75-yard drive in the last 2 1/2 minutes of the game, finishing the march down the field by carrying the ball the final 17 yards for the winning TD.
The Cougars were left with the final 34 seconds to answer with a score, but their last-gasp effort ended at midfield and the Sun Devils chalked up the 38-34 win to push their overall record to 5-1 and 2-1 in Pac-12 play.
Daniels set a couple of career records, passing for 363 yards and posting four touchdowns. He added another 23 yards rushing to push right up against that 400-yard mark for total offense.
“We stepped in here, we knew what the situation was going to be, and no one panicked about it,” explained senior running back Eno Benjamin, referring to taking on a team that boasts one of the top-scoring offenses in the nation. “We knew we were going to have a freshman at quarterback. (But) I say it all the time, the way he goes through practice, you would never be able to tell he’s a freshman, so that’s really just a testament to him.”
Benjamin did his part, too, racking up 137 yards on 19 carries. It marked the 12th time in his ASU career that the Texas import has reached the century mark.
During the 10 plays of that final drive of the game, only three players touched the ball: Daniels, Benjamin, and Brandon Aiyuk. By the time the game ended, Aiyuk had also set a couple of new career marks. The senior wide receiver, a junior-college transfer last year, collected 196 yards in receptions and scored three touchdowns. An 86-yard TD reception in the second quarter enters the school record books as the eighth-longest.
But Daniels has been the intangible this season, not knowing how the freshman would hold up under game conditions. So far, his coach, Herm Edwards, seems to be happy with the results.
“In big moments it doesn’t get him flustered,” explains the second-year head coach. “He just continues to play. ”
We’ll soon find out whether the youngster will be able to stand up to even bigger challenges when the Sun Devils have to play No. 12 Oregon and No. 13 Utah. The Utes are the immediate test, a game on the road this Saturday.
And then there’s that team down south on the I-10 freeway. The Arizona Wildcats are in a four-way tie for first place in the Pac-12 South and will be visiting Tempe for the final game on the schedule. ASU is one of the three teams tied with the Wildcats.
That game could determine whether one or the other team plays in the Pac-12 Championship.
But, hey…no pressure, rookie.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)