Through four games of its season, ASU football's offense has gone as far as junior quarterback Jayden Daniels' legs have been able to take them.
In the team's latest game, a 35-13 win over the University of Colorado Boulder, Daniels' legs were on full display as he ran seven times for 75 yards and two touchdowns, giving him an average of 10.7 yards per carry. In ASU's three wins this season, Daniels has averaged 80 yards per game, on 8.6 carries.
"It makes the whole offense easier," Daniels said about his success running the ball. "Teams are gonna come and game plan to stop me because I'm such a threat with my legs ... It makes it easier for Coach (Zak) Hill to call plays."
In ASU's disappointing loss to Brigham Young University the week prior to Colorado, Daniels' running plays were completely stymied, rushing for a measly 8 yards on 10 carries. BYU really keyed on Daniels' ability to run the ball and forced him to throw, which he did to varying levels of success, as he finished with a career-high two interceptions.
It's no coincidence that when Daniels' struggled on the ground against BYU, the rest of the offense came to a halt as well.
Against Colorado, on several instances, Daniels' wasn't able to find a receiver downfield, but he was able to scramble and take advantage of a wide-open patch of grass vacated by the defense. ASU head coach Herm Edwards said this week it's extremely difficult for opposing defenses to prepare for these types of unscripted plays, from a defensive perspective.
"That's a concern for the defense because it's the unscripted play," Edwards said. "The unannounced ones, the ones that just kind of pop up, those are the ones that scare you. And Jayden is that kind of quarterback."
With Daniels as the leader of the team, and perhaps the most dynamic player on offense, the coaching staff has urged him to avoid unnecessary hits when running the ball and to always slide, protecting himself, something Edwards thought he did well at last week.
"What I liked about Jayden last week is that he knew when the journey was over, and he got down," Edwards said. "Don't take an unnecessary hit. You don't have to try to show people you are a tough guy. The tough guy is the people that can play the next play as a quarterback. It was one of his better games I thought sliding and protecting."
ASU offensive coordinator Hill rarely calls designed run plays for Daniels, as he prefers to make throwing from the pocket the main staple of his game.
Hill mentioned he doesn't want running to be Daniels' first thought.
"We don't want him running, you know, and it's not like we're designing a bunch of stuff for him," Hill said. "We'd like for him to be able to get balls out and get those completions, that is number one. We want him to be able to throw from the pocket."
Hill also mentioned Daniels will be able to get loose and do his own thing with the run game, but designed run plays won't be given to him every time.
"With the run game, we just know he's gonna kind of do this thing at times and be able to get loose," Hill said. "Last week against Colorado, the designed quarterback run game was there so we utilized it.
The ASU passing game has struggled to be consistent throughout the season, with Daniels only having two passing touchdowns compared to three interceptions. A lot of this can be attributed to a receiving core which has struggled with drops and inconsistency as redshirt senior running back Rachaad White is the leader in receiving yards, causing the receiving core to lack a true game-breaking receiver.
White currently has seven more receptions than the receiver with the second most, redshirt freshman wide receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton, who has 13 total on the season.
Going forward, the Sun Devils could make their most dynamic player and team leader a more consistent part of the offensive game plan.
This week against No. 20 UCLA, whether Daniels gets loose on the ground could be a major factor in whether the Sun Devils pick up a win on the road against a ranked opponent.
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