Football’s return to Tempe came at a cost for the Sun Devils. The season opener funneled new players at positions of need.
Announced before the contest against Kent State, Arizona State’s starting redshirt senior center Cade Cote broke his foot in practice Sunday and junior kicker Brandon Ruiz was held out with lower body injury. The team also suspended redshirt senior Tillman safety Tyler Whiley due to violations of team rules.
ASU had to turn to true freshmen center Donhovan West with the injury to Cote and Head Coach Herm Edwards acknowledged the fact that’s what they have at center.
“That’s what we got,” Edwards said. “And that’s who’s playing.”
Despite all the replacements, the Sun Devils (1-0) weathered the storm to defeat Kent State (0-1) 30-7. Behind the defense’s stellar performance, they were able to shut down the high octane Kent State (0-1) offense. Only allowing 200 total yards, forcing five fumbles (recovering one) and getting three sacks on the night.
The Tempe crowd knew that Jayden Daniels needed time to be himself as he molded into the first true freshman to start a season opener. Daniels’ first pass was over thrown to Brandon Aiyuk but after that, his game improved. Daniels finished the day 15-for-24 with 284 throwing yards and two touchdowns on the night. Daniels also picked up multiple first downs on his feet and a touchdown.
Daniels said that his first game was a special moment for him but he knows the offense still needs to fix some things before next game.
“To go out there and get my first college win, there's a lot we have to improve on and I can’t be too content with the win,” Daniels said. “Myself, the receivers, running backs, the whole offense, has to improve on a lot of things.”
As Ruiz watched the sidelines nursing his lower body injury, redshirt sophomore Cristian Zendejas made his first three career field goals.
“Zendejas does a great job of kicking,” Edwards said. “We found out last night and I'm thinking how far can he kick a field goal.”
Zendejas finished the night with three made field goals and three extra points made. He connected from 35, 31 and 40 yards out.
It’s early in the season but the Sun Devils were able to score in the third quarter. A task they struggled with last season and saw games turn toward their opponents favor.
“I thought the third quarter was important for us because that was the quarter last year where we really didn’t do a lot,” Edwards said. “We talked about it at halftime and we knew we had to come out in the third quarter and run the football and score and we were able to do that. That got us the momentum back in the game.”
The third quarter displayed plenty of life from the Sun Devils, scoring on three of their four drives. A Daniels one-yard keeper, Zendejas made field goal and a 77-yard screen play touchdown from Daniels to Aiyuk.
“I knew that if we got a screen off and got one or two blocks we could be gone,” offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “(Jayden) did a great job of finding a throwing lane on that particular throw under duress, got a different arm slot and found my man Brandon.”
For Kent State, the offense was able to put up their first points of the game on a 21-yard touchdown from Barrett to sophomore wideout Isaiah McKoy. This capped off an eight-play 69-yard drive for the Golden Flashes.
Daniels responded the next drive to find fellow true freshman wide receiver Ricky Pearsall for a 16-yard third-down conversion. Zendejas capped off the drive with a 40-yard field goal.
The Sun Devils played 25 freshman with 14 of them in their first year with the program.
Edwards said the freshman will continue to play over the course of the season because of the injuries and depth issues at some positions.
“I think the more they play and the more they contribute, they gain confidence,” Edwards said. “Their eyes are wide open and you can see them on the sideline.”
Arizona State plays against the Sacramento State Hornets next Friday at Sun Devil Stadium.