It was always hard to imagine Eno Benjamin was going to replicate his breakout sophomore season. Defenses were always going to force the Sun Devils to beat them through the air with a freshman quarterback at the helm.
For the most part this season, Jayden Daniels has done well enough to help win games for his team. Although, a lot of that wasn’t taking deep shots down the field. After the loss to Oregon State, head coach Herm Edwards displayed the importance of attacking downfield.
“They’re going to put eight guys into the box and try and challenge us,” Edwards said. “Then you’ve got to hit some big balls. You’ve got to hit some ball downfield and if you do that you can back them off.”
Daniels started doing that later in the game. However, it took time to do so. He hit Brandon Aiyuk for a 56-yard gain in the third quarter, and the ball started going down field more. In Daniels’ next 11 completions to close out the game, seven went for 10 yards or more, another being an eight-yard touchdown.
Previously before the big play to Aiyuk, Daniels only had three completions of his 12 go for more than 10 yards. One of those happened to be the touchdown to Frank Darby, a ball that was a tighter window than most of Daniels throws. That’s the biggest key of it all is throwing a few balls just giving his receiver a shot at a big play..
During the USC game when Joey Yellen filled in for an injured Daniels, he showed that he wasn’t afraid to sling the ball around. The offense saw more chunk plays but of course that came with more turnover worthy plays.
Daniels doesn’t need to be Brett Favre out there but it’s time to let go of the training wheels. The coaching staff has always praised Daniels for the way he protects the ball, but as offensive coordinator Rob Likens has mentioned there’s times Daniels seems to be too conservative in his decision making.
The team certainly has the talent to go deeper down field. Likens also needs to help Daniels as well. The amount of screens and swing passes should decrease, the way Darby has played of late and even having a receiving threat in Benjamin out of the backfield, who ran a perfect wheel route against the Beavers, asks for more long passes.
The improvements made by first-year Oregon defense coordinator Andy Avalos makes it hard to believe the Ducks will allow points from a big-time Benjamin game on the ground or miss tackles on a screen play to Aiyuk. Nevertheless Oregon’s 10th ranked scoring defense isn’t flawless.
Washington and Washington State, the two Pac-12 schools who have had the most success against Oregon this season did it by chunk plays through the air. For the Huskies, Jacob Eason had touchdowns from 48 and 33 yards out. Anthony Gordon found seven different Cougar wide receivers for plays of at least 14 yards.
The Arizona State defensive line will be at a disadvantage against the powerful Oregon blockers. The numbers say Oregon will be able to put numbers on the Sun Devils, and the offense will have to match. And to do that, Daniels and the air attack will have to take a few more risks because taking down a top six team doesn’t happen being conservative.