Preview: ASU football's anticipated 2019 season opener arrives

The Sun Devils look to win their fourth straight season opener Thursday when they host Kent State

An offseason filled with intrigue and excitement comes to a close Thursday when ASU football kicks off its season with a matchup against the visiting Kent State Golden Flashes. 

The Sun Devils, under head coach Herm Edwards, will start true freshman Jayden Daniels under center as the team looks to win its fourth straight season opener.

As Edwards pointed out earlier this week, it's safe to say the team is itching to get back on the field. 

“Players are tired of practicing against each other, they want to just go play a game,” he said. “And I think as coaches, you want to play a game as well.”

Talk around ASU practice has been dominated by Daniels, who earned the starting quarterback job after impressive showings in both spring and fall practice. 

His immediate command of both the locker room and huddle resonated strongly with Edwards, who often harps on not only the physical fortitude required to succeed in college football, but the mental as well. 

“As far as (Daniels), I like him. I just like the guy, man. I like his personality,” Edwards said. “...Me and him we look at each other a lot and we kind of feel it. He doesn’t panic. I can’t wait to see him play.” 

Excitement over Daniels doesn’t just extend to Edwards, as the freshman’s play in practice has quickly won him his fair share of admirers. 

With Heisman-hopeful running back Eno Benjamin accompanying Daniels in the backfield and a veteran wide receiver corps at his disposal, there’s some thought that the Sun Devils' offensive firepower could exceed even the wildest of expectations this season.

“I know he’s ready,” redshirt junior cornerback Chase Lucas said of Daniels. “From what I’ve been seeing from spring to now, he’s matured a lot and I think he’s handled his offense really well. With the help of Eno (Benjamin) and Frank Darby, it’s going to be lights out.”

Even with all the hype surrounding Daniels, ASU coaches are quick to remind that this offense still revolves around Benjamin

Last season’s third team All-American returns after a stellar sophomore season in which Benjamin rushed for a school-record 1,642 yards and scored a Pac-12 leading 16 touchdowns. His importance within the offense has only heightened as the team prepares to handle the natural ebb and flow that accompanies starting a freshman quarterback. 

“When in doubt just turn around and hand it off to Eno Benjamin,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “That kid is a get out of jail free card. We have a good run game. We work on our run game, it’s not a secret. If we were to put a pyramid up of how we designed our offense, the bottom of that pyramid is the run game. We have a lot of good run plays in and we feel really good about it.”

The Sun Devils' emphasis on establishing the run has been a staple of the Edwards offense in his short time in Tempe, and with Daniels' dual-threat capabilities now at his full disposal, the ASU rushing attack figures to become that much more potent. Thursday’s matchup with Kent State will provide ASU its first introduction into just how far teams will go to stop it.  

“They’re a defense that likes to do a lot of things from the defensive side, as far as bringing blitzes, even blitzing from the safety position,” Benjamin said. “Those guys are really active. You have to get your eyes up or else they’re going to get you. We’ve got our work cut out for us.” 

Thursday’s season opener sets the stage for a potentially historic moment for Sun Devil football. For some, the contest represents the beginning of the end; their final week one in the maroon and gold. For others, a grand coronation under the brightest of lights. As a number of Sun Devils prepare to take their first steps out of Tillman Tunnel, Lucas provided a few choice words of wisdom. 

“You’ve been doing this your whole life, it’s nothing new,” Lucas said. “It’s just people are bigger, they’re older, but you just have to believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself and stick to the script, then everything’s possible.”


Reach the reporter at Jrosenfa@asu.edu or follow @jacobrosenfarb on Twitter. 

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