Daniels, ASU pass 2019's first test by defeating Kent State 30-7

Freshmen led the way for the Sun Devils in their season opening victory

Freshmen were the story on Thursday night as ASU cruised to a 30-7 victory over Kent State at Sun Devil Stadium. 

25 took the field for Coach Herm Edwards' team, the most to play in an ASU game in the modern era, according to ASU athletics.

Their youth did not seem to play a major role in the game, as ASU flexed its proverbial muscles en route to a wire-to-wire victory over Kent State. 

“Well, it felt good,” ASU offensive coordinator Rob Likens said, adding that there are still things he wants the team to improve on next week. "But (a win is) always great and winning - I told these guys this today - winning is so hard in college football. You don’t ever overlook a win.” 

The story coming into Thursday night’s contest was freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, who was slated to become Arizona State’s first true freshman to start a season opener. 

Expectations were sky high for the former No. 2 overall dual-threat quarterback prospect, yet Daniels was able to exceed them. He exuded confidence from his first snap, showing off his arm strength and deceptive quickness from the opening drive. 

“I am very pleased with what (Daniels) did," Likens said. "He had pressure, he did not have any foolish turnovers, I thought he did very well securing the football and sliding when he had to slide and sometimes taking a sack. To score 30 points, I’m kind of pleased with that. I thought he did a great job.” 

Daniels finished the game with 297 yards of total offense, 284 of them through the air on 15 of 24 passing. He also added three total touchdowns. Daniels found junior running back Eno Benjamin wide open in the end zone for his first and he took it in himself on a one-yard keeper for his second. 

Then, the biggest play of the game came late in the third quarter when senior wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk scored on a 77-yard screen pass. 

It was certainly a night to remember for Daniels, who secured his place inside the ASU record books for a number of different freshman-related accolades including most passing yards in a debut. 

“It’s a special moment to go out there and get my first college win but there’s a lot we have to improve on,” Daniels said. 

But Daniels said there is always work to be done. 

“We can’t be too content with the win," he said. "There’s a lot we have to improve on - myself, the running backs, receivers, the whole offense has to improve on a lot of things."

Defensively, the Sun Devils shined from the opening kick. They set the tone early with a devastatingly quick three-and-out on Kent State’s first offensive possession. That trend continued throughout the night as the unit held the Golden Flashes to only 80 yards passing.

“It was great to get us going and get our confidence going too,” senior defensive back Kobe Williams said on the defense’s hot start. “We had them at minus-one passing yards for a long time and that’s all we kept talking about. They ended up squeezing some out, but that’s just the game of football."

Williams said the team capitalized on Kent State's mistakes and was able to force turnovers. 

"That’s what we preach every day. Make turnovers to help our offense out and get short fields," Williams said. "If we can do that every single game that’s big for us and big for our offense to help them out.”

This is not to say the Sun Devils were without error. They made a number of crucial miscues that a higher-level opponent could have exploited. Specifically, an early fumble from Benjamin killed an ASU drive and Edwards pointed to penalties in the first half.

The conversation following Thursday’s win was dominated by talk of freshmen. While their successes will likely inspire confidence in the locker room, their growing pains are also part of the process as well. 

But Edwards has never been one to dwell on the negatives. He knows that when the time comes, his freshmen will be ready to answer the call. 

“That’s what we got, and that’s who’s playing,” Edwards said of his freshmen. “We’ll live with it ... We’re not going to shy away from it. We’re going to play them, and as the season goes along by week six they’ll be a lot better. By the end of the season they’ll be even better. So that’s what you have to do, but have to play them and you have to live with it.” 

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

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