TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State will open a season with a true freshman at quarterback for the first time in program history.
The Sun Devils already know what Kent State will try to do against Jayden Daniels: Rattle him with pressure.
“They are coming,” Arizona State second-year coach Herm Edwards said. “They are going to storm the castle.”
Daniels emerged from a four-player competition that started last spring to earn the starting nod for Thursday night’s season opener. He was one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback recruits out of San Bernardino, California, and impressed the coaches enough to edge out junior Dillon Sterling-Cole, freshmen Joey Yellen and Ethan Long.
Daniels had a record-setting career at Cajon High School, but the pressure — mentally and physically — he’ll face against Kent State will be unlike anything he’s seen so far in his young career.
Arizona State has one of the nation’s best running backs in Eno Benjamin and the Sun Devils fully expect the Golden Flashes to load up to stop him, forcing Daniels to beat them.
“How is he going to react to pressure? How is he going to react to six guys coming at him? What is he going to do with the ball? All those things are going to happen to him and he is going to have to play,” Edwards said. “He is going to have to deal with it. We will help him, but that is the process of learning how to play quarterback. You cannot tell defenses to not do that because he is a freshman.”
A few more things to look for when Arizona State and Kent State open the 2019 season at Sun Devil Stadium:
BREAKING BENJAMIN: Kent State’s focus undoubtedly will be to slow Benjamin. Even stacking the box against the run might not be enough. Benjamin set a school record and was fifth nationally as a sophomore last season with 1,642 yards rushing and his 16 rushing touchdowns were ninth in the FBS. He also set a Sun Devils record with 300 carries in 2018 and will likely carry a heavy load again this season.
HOME OPENERS: Arizona State has been one of the nation’s best in home openers. The Sun Devils have won 20 straight home openers, the fifth-longest streak in the FBS. Arizona State’s last home-opening loss came in 1998 against Washington. The Sun Devils are 59-15-1 all-time in home openers.
SPEEDY FLASHES: Kent State went 2-10 last season, but its offense could present a few problems for the Sun Devils, particularly in the first game of the season. The Golden Flashes play an up-tempo spread offense orchestrated by Woody Barrett, a former Auburn quarterback who threw for 2,339 yards and 11 touchdowns. Kent State also returns its top three receivers from last season and its leading rusher, Jo-El Shaw. With no preseason games in college football, the Sun Devils will have to adjust to the speed — not to mention overcome first-game jitters — in the early going Thursday night.
NUMBERS: Arizona State’s running backs have not lost a fumble on a rushing play in 902 consecutive carries, a stretch of 32 games. ... Kent State’s Sean Lewis is the youngest head coach in FBS at 33. He’s in his second season with the Golden Flashes. ... Arizona State LB Merlin Robinson became the first freshman since Jason Shivers in 2001 to lead the team in tackles. He had 77 last season to earn Pac-12 defensive player of the year honors. ... Kent State was seventh nationally in red zone defense last season, holding opponents to a 73.3% conversion rate.