Offensive coordinator Rob Likens called it the “oh crap” moment. When playing a Mike Leach offense, he knew the possibility that his team would look up at the scoreboard and say “oh crap.”
It came early, the Cougars drove down on the game’s first drive with ease, capped off by a 35-yard touchdown connection between quarterback Anthony Gordon and wide receiver Travell Harris.
The Sun Devils answer? A three-and-out. On the bench the offense watched the Cougars put up a field goal and Arizona State entered the second quarter without a point. The “oh crap” moment occurred.
“The second thing we talked about this morning was there was going to be a moment,” Likens said. “..They’re going to jump on you early.”
That moment kicked the Sun Devils into a groove. Jayden Daniels found Brandon Aiyuk for a 40-yard touchdown to get the ball rolling in the second quarter, the first of a big day between the two. And most importantly instead of letting the game slip out of hand, the Sun Devils asked for a shootout.
Arizona State collected only 23 yards in the first quarter yet finished with over 500 yards and a 38-34 win over Washington State.
“They don’t flinch, that’s why I love them,” head coach Herm Edwards said.
Daniels once again led a game-winning drive, finished by his 17-yard run where he flipped into the end zone. The 75-yard drive that left 34 seconds on the clock for any hope of a Cougar miracle was no shock after Thursday’s practice.
“Thursday we had a really good two-minute drill,” Likens said. “We scored a touchdown to win...When we hit it, I said just like Thursday at practice, let’s go. We basically got what we wanted to get in.”
The Sun Devils tied the contest at 17 as they headed into halftime, no team took a lead larger than seven the rest of the way.
Daniels, Aiyuk and running back Eno Benjamin all showed up when they needed to. Daniels of course, despite being a true freshman, called his own number in the game’s biggest play to solidify a hard-earned win for his team.
“I could tell by the seven-yard-line he was going for it,” Likens said. “He smelled blood in the water, he bursted and took off. That was pure greatness.”
Aiyuk, who finished with 196 receiving yards and three scores on seven catches, came through when called upon. The Cougars extended the lead back to 10 after his first touchdown, but it didn’t last for long.
He took a screen, rocketed past two Washington State defenders, for 86 yards into the end zone. Aiyuk did the same thing from the 40-yard-line, with a little bit of a high-step taunt, to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
Likens made Benjamin’s job pretty easy, the offensive coordinator called one type of run play all day and ran it again and again. Likens went to the Sun Devils’ best player on a fourth-and-1 for the first drive of the second half. Benjamin got the yard and ended up looking behind him to breeze in for the touchdown.
Daniels obviously played a large part in the final drive. Aiyuk and Benjamin did as well. Benjamin continued to make himself a check down option and picked up another fourth-down chance. Aiyuk created space on two passes to move within field goal range and got out of bounds each time.
Edwards and Likens wanted to run the football well, keep time of possession even and finish with no turnovers. It worked.
“I’m just so excited for our kids because they embraced that game plan,” Likens said. “..When I went around that corner and got into that locker room late there after they all celebrated. They were all like, ‘we did it, we did what we said we were going to do.’ And man there’s nothing better than a group of guys coming together with a common goal.”