Are Arizona State fans worried about Kent State, a team that went 2-10 last season? Most of them are probably figuring out ways the Sun Devils win on their trip to East Lansing in a few weeks.
The coaching stuff has no easy feeling with the Golden Flashes. There’s plenty that worries them.
“That’s the uniqueness of football,” head coach Herm Edwards said. “No matter what conference you play in, when you feel like you’re the underdog, you get up for teams, and you just do. You feel like, maybe I was under-recruited, whatever it may be. Players use all kinds of things to motivate them and I think when you feel like you are the superior team, which we do not feel like by any stretch of the imagination, you got to be on your guard.
“I said, ‘This field over here, Thursday, they’re going to be excited about playing us and we know it. And we’re going to have to withstand all that and we can’t lose our composure. That’s why I always say in games like this, you can’t because you have this mindset, everyone has a mindset of how this thing is supposed to look until actually the ball kicks off.”
They’ve set goals for the team, winning feature at the top of the list, but much more below that. Defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales will push his group plenty. With a freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels and an offensive line that isn’t solidified just yet, the offense will have a few learning curves out the gate. With that, the Sun Devils will probably lean on their defense.
That’s fine with Gonzales because he has high expectations for his squad during Thursday’s season opener.
“I hope we fricken stone [Kent State],” he said. “That’s what I go into every week and when they get a yard it drives me crazy. I hate it. They understand that, our guys understand it. I think they have a lot of the same mindset. Practice started off pretty good today, we did some tempo stuff. Kent State, they try and go 1,000 miles an hour, they try to hike the ball about every 13 seconds. It’s a well-oiled machine when they have it going.”
First-year head coach Sean Lewis ran the ball a lot in 2018. On a per game basis, Kent State rushed a little over 41 times. For perspective, ASU rushed 38.4 times a game, ranking them 65th in the FBS and 30 spots behind its Week One opponent.
Lewis has the players to do it as well. They’re good enough that Gonzales made a point of emphasis about them.
“They’ve got a good quarterback in Woody Barrett who’s a transfer from Auburn, a four-star kid out of high school. He’s a big ‘ole kid and he’ll try and run you over. They do some stuff that gives him a chance to be successful,” Gonzales said. “They go fast. We’ve got a great challenge. (Senior) [Jo-el Shaw], the running back, ran for over 700 yards last year. They’ve got another gentleman by the name of (redshirt freshman running back) Craig Elmore –– I’ve been reading all of their stuff online.
“Shoot, I’m a Kent State stalker right now. Every article they’ve got I’m trying to figure out who’s doing what and how they’re doing and they’ve got a 5-foot-9, 230 pound running back, redshirt freshman (Elmore), that I think can come in and cause some problems. So, our boys have a great challenge ahead of them and it’s the coach’s job to make sure they don’t think it’s going to be easy because Kent State is going to be a good football team coming in here.”
Barrett and Shaw scored seven touchdowns apiece last year. The 6-foot-2, 240 pound quarterback had more rushes, but Shaw led them in yards.
Kent State won’t just line up in an I-Formation and try to run it down a defense’s throat. They use a lot of motion as well. During practice leading up to Thursday, ASU has used cornerback Jack Jones as a scout team motion man with his speed to keep contain.
On this fourth-and-short against Illinois in 2018, Kent State used motion to up free Barrett to pick up the first down. The Sun Devils will need to stay on their assignments to stop big plays from happening.
The talent on the offensive is not the only thing on the staff’s mind. After the sloppy display during Week 0 in both the Miami (FL)-Florida and Hawaii-Arizona games, Edwards and Gonzales put significance on tackling. It’ll be hot, Kent State will run a lot of plays, ASU will still need to tackle to prevent plays such as the one below.
“Yeah, and tackling is a big concern I think for all coaches,” Edwards said. “And in the one game, the Miami game I want to say, Florida was 20 (missed tackles), and then the Arizona-Miami game was 18. You just miss tackles. In pro football, I watched it, you miss tackles. You sit there and you watch it. First four weeks of pro football, I mean, if you can just don’t beat yourself, you’re going to win some games early because it’s a mess. I mean, even in the preseason, most veteran guys don’t play. They play, I don’t know, 30-40 snaps max. Right?
“And so, you get into this, and you watch it unfold and it unfolds on all levels. For them, they get some preseason games, but for college football, you get no preseason games. They count.”
The score at the end will most likely favor the Sun Devils. That won’t be an indication if the team plays up the the expectations of Edwards and Gonzales. That will be decided after.