After a morning practice on Sunday, both ASU Offensive Coordinator Rob Likens and Defensive Coordinator Danny Gonzales spoke at length about how they are feeling about their respective sides of the ball.
With a game week in full swing, here were some of the focal points:
Likens addressed the poise and play calling strategy for starting freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, the team’s wide receiving core, his thoughts on playing backup quarterback Joey Yellen, and the strengths of Kent State’s defense.
Regarding the Sun Devil signal-caller, Likens reiterated that his poise is through the roof. And if all else fails, the coordinator made a funny comment about an emergency button to click if the offense is sputtering.
“When in doubt, just turn around and hand it off to Eno Benjamin,” said Likens with a chuckle. “It’s a get out of jail free card. You don’t have to feel the pressure and the world is not on your shoulders. We have a good run game...It’s not a secret. If we put a pyramid up of how we designed our offense, the bottom of that pyramid is the run game. That’s the base foundation.”
Make no mistake with the run-first philosophy, though. Likens is ready to turn Daniels loose from the get-go. When asked if he would consider easing him into Thursday’s opener with a few conservative throws and play calls, the OC was honest.
“We are going to hit the ground running,” Likens said. “We are going to call plays according to what he can do...That doesn’t concern me and I don’t think Jayden is like that. I don’t worry about him panicking and all that. If we feel like a pass is the first thing to do on the first play of the game, that’s what we are going to do.”
During Sunday’s availability with the coordinators, Likens also announced that he had no intention whatsoever of working in Yellen over the course of the game unless the situation absolutely asked for it.
Among other topics, junior wide receiver Curtis Hodges is starting to run and workout, but an appearance in the opener is highly unlikely, per Likens.
As for the Golden Flashes, the ASU offense is preparing for a team who is committed to stopping the run and who will throw a lot of blitzes at them on third down. Likens pointed at Kent State’s game against Ole Miss last season (a game that was tied 7-7 at halftime).
On paper, it seems as if the Devils have the better team. However, as ASU fans know all too well with close contests against New Mexico State and Cal Poly during the 2015 and 17’ home season openers, there’s no reason to overlook non power-five opponents.
The opening night of the Herm Edwards era last year was a different story with a route of the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), but there’s never any room to be complacent. Likens wants his guys to tune out the noise.
“What you try to do on our end, you don’t get caught in the trap where you get nervous about, ‘We are supposed to win this game,’ No you’re not,” Likens said. “You are supposed to go out there and play the game as hard as you can and then if you deserve to win, you’ll win the game. That’s the way you got to think about it when you are in our shoes...There’s nobody that’s supposed to win the game. Don’t look at the Vegas (betting) line and all that crap. That means nothing. That’s the kind of mindset I want our guys to have.”
Gonzales entered the media room on Sunday with a grin that looked similar to a little kid in a candy store.
“It’s football season. It’s good stuff,” he said.
The Sun Devil d-coordinator then delved into what stands out to him about Kent State and its hurry-up offense as well as how comfortable the defense looks entering year two in the 3-3-5 system.
“One year ago today, I had no idea what we were getting into. We had practiced and they had done some things in practice, but we were still having trouble getting lined up and they didn’t understand how hard I wanted them to play,” Gonzales said. “I think because they have a year into it, they understand what we are doing better, they understand where the puzzle pieces fit better, their faster and stronger, they play harder, and they are in better shape. So I think that lends you to have more success than they did last year...They understand what it is, now we got to coach them to get them there.”
Regarding the Golden Flashes, Gonzales mentioned Kent State’s tempo and how they speed up the game, looking to get snaps off in 13 seconds or less in between plays.
In addition to Kent State, Gonzales also went into the status of cornerback Jack Jones, who is still getting up to speed after getting back into college football.
The coordinator gave credit to the Sun Devil medical staff, saying the groups “magic beans” must be working. Jones took reps with the first and second team defense over the last couple days, but it’s still a gradual process. One of the newest ASU players is still dealing with fatigue and soreness from the everyday grind.
“He’s a lot further along than what I anticipated,” Gonzales said. “He was able to take some reps with the 1’s and 2’s today, but he’s really sore. You got to give Jack Jones a lot of credit for how tough he is. They did an MRI on him and there was some pretty severe stuff in there that was swollen, but he’s able to fight through it.”
Above everything else, football season is officially back. Games kicked off on Saturday, and ASU follows suit this upcoming Thursday with its own opening kickoff.
And speaking of this past Saturday’s games, Gonzales referenced Hawaii’s opening win over the Sun Devils’ rival from down south, pinpointing the final play of the game in which Arizona senior quarterback Khalil Tate was taken down at the one-yard line by Hawaii’s nose tackle as time expired.
Folks, we already spoiled the season. Nothing is going to be better than this in any way. pic.twitter.com/jNDN0ut72m— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) August 25, 2019
Gonzales asked for tape of the game at midnight after it concluded, and he used it as an example of how to never give up on a play for his defense. He wants to see that similar effort this season.
“They won because a guy 40 yards away from the play busted his tail. When I first got here (to ASU), we would throw a ball 60 yards down the field and I would scream at the nose tackle saying, ‘What are you doing? Run. Go chase him.’ They were looking at me like, ‘Coach, I am never going to make that play. Why do I need to do this?’ It’s because you don’t know when you are going to make an impact,” Gonzales said.
“That’s the expectation they have got to come to...I came in at five o’clock this morning telling coach Edwards, ‘Did you see that play?’ We talked about it and we showed it to the team. Every chance you get where you see someone have success doing what we want to do and playing hard like that, that’s the expectation.”