ASU improves to 2-0 with victory over Sacramento State

Benjamin's late touchdown seals ASU victory in offensive struggle

In a game defined by an abundance of sloppy play, careless penalties and untimely drops, ASU was able to emerge victorious with a 19-7 victory over the visiting Sacramento State Hornets. 

The defense, which once again came within a fourth quarter drive of shutting out its opponent, exerted its dominance over the FCS competition while the Sun Devil offense did just enough to keep ASU afloat.

“I thought we played 55 minutes; we have to learn to play 60,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said of the unit. “They’re starting to figure it out. They had that look in their eye on the sideline, and then we didn’t overcome the pass interference penalty. If we want to be as good as we talk about, we got to overcome those things.”

That pass interference penalty, committed by senior cornerback and team captain Kobe Williams, helped maintain a Sacramento State drive in the fourth quarter that ultimately resulted in the team’s only score of the game. 

“We decided to sit back and play zone, see if we could keep them from moving the ball,” Gonzales said. “I thought for the most part we did, and then after the pass interference we relaxed, we let up. We didn’t overcome it. That’s two weeks in a row (that) we’ve had a fourth quarter drive that changes our momentum of the success we were having. We have to learn to change that.”

Redshirt sophomore nose tackle D.J. Davidson was arguably the star of the group, racking up five total tackles including 2.5 for a loss while adding 1.5 sacks. 

“I thought D.J. did a nice job up front,” Gonzales said. “They’re having a hard time blocking him. What I’m really proud of D.J. for, he came over and said, ‘Hey coach, this is what they’re doing this time.’ 

Gonzales said this kind of feedback from his players provides the opportunity to respond with a plan. 

Offensively, the Sun Devils often looked stagnant and ineffective, failing to score even a single point before their final drive of the first half. Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, who last week became the first true freshman in Arizona State history to start a season opener as quarterback, often looked skittish and rattled behind a scattered offensive line. 

The team's lone touchdown came on a 72-yard pass from Daniels to running back Eno Benjamin late in the fourth quarter. Other than that, the offense struggled to mount consistent drives. 

“Offensively we just shot ourselves in the foot” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “I told the quarterbacks, 'I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I’ve never seen anything like that.' But we have to get it fixed. We were always just one guy away from doing something right.”

ASU’s offensive shortcomings were only heightened by their incompetency in the red zone. In their five red zone trips Friday night, the Sun Devils failed to find the end zone even once. They fumbled on the goal line and settled for four field goals.

“Every time that we went down there, and we made a big play and got inside the 10-yard line, we’d lose two yards on first down trying to run the football,” Likens said. “That can’t happen, we’ve got to fix that. We have to find out what we’re good at, what we can do, and then make sure we do that down there.”

ASU’s red zone failures opened the door for an impressive performance from placekicker Cristian Zendejas, who is now 7-7 on field goals and 4-4 on extra points. The redshirt sophomore, who once again acted as a last-minute replacement for projected starting kicker Brandon Ruiz, has shined in his limited opportunities.

“Our kicking game really saved us again,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “The punter is creating long fields for those guys and then the field goal kicker came in and kicked them all through. That was basically the game.”

Despite the miscues and errors, ASU coaches were quick to remind anyone who would listen that a win is still a win. 

As the team prepares to travel to East Lansing next week for a battle with the No. 19 Michigan State Spartans, the coaching staff knows that there is more to this team than meets the eye. 

“I’m not (worried) because every year it’s the same thing on offense,” Likens said. “Especially when we have a lot of new guys. We’re trying to figure out what we do really, really good. It’s hard to find that out in practice … so you find out in games, under duress, under good competition, under guys trying to fire off balls in packed boxes and stuff like that. So we’ll figure it out. I’m certainly not panicking.”


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

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