On Monday, head coach Herm Edwards and offensive coordinator Rob Likens took to the podium to discuss the win against Kent State, preview Sacramento State and the roster as a whole.
Dohnovan West and the offensive line
Hours before the season opener’s kickoff, Arizona State revealed that starting center Cade Cote had broke his foot the Sunday leading up to Kent State. His replacement, true freshman Dohnovan West, jumped head first into the opportunity.
Likens, who calls plays from the press box, initially thought West got beat in real time. However, after he reviewed the tape, Likens formed a completely different opinion.
“I watched the film and I thought for a freshman, for his situation and what he did, we couldn’t have asked for anything better than what he did,” Likens said. “That was absolutely amazing. I now have so much faith in that kid. I don’t look at him as a liability or anything like that at all.
“I look at him as a plus and I look at him as a future all-conference center honestly. I really do. That was amazing. His understanding of leverage, his understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish on that play and his body position shows you how smart the kid is. He’s going to be a tremendous player.”
West impressed Edwards as well, for a different reason.
“Guys, think about this: you’ve got a freshman quarterback, knock on wood now, and a freshman center and there wasn’t any bad handoffs or bad snaps,” Edwards said.
Edwards talked about West’s blocking ability too. He was also asked if the staff considered moving current left tackle Cohl Cabral back to center over West. Outside a mere conversation, Edwards said they didn’t really seriously think about the switch and labeled West as the ‘future’ at center, and thus they decided to go with him.
Likens also talked about the issues upfront as a whole after Kent State sacked five Jayden Daniels times and countless other pressures he evaded. He placed part of the blame on Daniels in a few situations and both tackles would want a do-over. Although, he pointed to talking as the biggest issue.
“Yeah, we had some communication errors,” Likens said. “They did some things that we, not like crazy stuff, but we just hadn’t worked on. What happens is when you play, you go against the defense like ours, it hurts you in some ways in camp, but it has helps you, it helps you with blitzes, it helps you with, you know, being you won’t see anything for the rest of the year, that’s gonna like oh, man guys running all over the place. But what it does to is, it’s so different that when you go into your first game, you only have like a week and a half to prepare for that next team. So all you can do, or you only got a week and a half, prepare it, we got to prepare for what they do the best.
“And going into that game, we felt like what they did best was one on the 50 front, and all that and then they came out in a four-two cover one most of the game. And we haven’t worked on that, you know, and we worked on it a little bit because it was about 5 percent of their defense last year, they only did it much on third downs, but then they came out first down and then they tilted the nose, they did some things that we just, you know, we had to wait till that series was over, get them off on the sideline, fix it, send them back out, then they’d come back out and 50 back to what they were doing.”
Despite the game being for nearly the entire fourth quarter, Daniels and Eno Benjamin played the whole game, or most of it in Benjamin’s case. Edwards wanted to get Benjamin 100 rushing yards because it’s important to the running back.
For Daniels, the choice to not rest him involved growth for himself and his teammates.
“There’s so many young guys, he needs to play more with those guys,” Edwards said. “You got to get the quarterback familiar with some of these young receivers. Freshman tight end (Nolan Matthews), two other freshmen wide receivers (Ricky Pearsall and Jordan Kerley), all of sudden you got all these moving parts, and you say ‘how do you get that done?’ You got to play them in a game.”
Likens enjoyed what he saw from the offensive weapons as well. Pearsall ended up the only one of the three with a catch, but each flashed in the eyes of the coordinator.
“I thought Ricky Pearsall exceeded my expectations,” Likens said. “He was very physical, he threw his body around, he was blocking, he’s just a tough kid so I saw that in him. Some guys respond in games a little bit different than others. I saw Jordan Kerley’s speed out there it was like, to me, I don’t know about you guys, but it was like obvious that he’s one of the fastest guys we have, so I saw that. (Kerley) made a few freshmen first game mistakes which that happens to all of them and you expect that. That’s why I said Jordan kind of exceeded my expectations because I didn’t see that. He didn’t play like it was his first game he played like kind of a vet so I was proud of that.
“Nolan I thought one thing that we all thought about Nolan when he got here was he was a tremendous athlete he was really going to help us in the past game. But would he be that physical presence that we needed at that position at times? And you saw him as the game went on, get more and more confident. The touchdown the drive to start the third quarter, if you go back and watch the play right before the touchdown, him and Dohnovan drove their guys about five or six yards back into the end zone and knocked them on the ground and then, you know, he kind of got up and you could see it was like, ‘ok, he’s feeling himself a little bit there.’ That’s what we’re looking for form him so we’re looking for him to build on that this week.”
Mandrake is here
At Monday’s practice, linebacker Khaylan Kearse-Thomas had a jersey with ‘Mandrake’ across the back and a ‘M’ with wings logo on the front. Back in December after Early Signing Day, Edwards established he was on the search for ‘Mandrake.’
Players who could do anything and everything essentially. The new ‘Mandrake’ jersey will be an award for the player of a winning game. This week, the played decided upon for the honer were Kearse-Thomas, Daniels and punter Michael Turk.
“Well, it can go to any player. It’s not a defensive award. I think sometimes the offense thought it was a defensive award,” Edwards explained. “Frank (Darby) came up to me and said, ‘How can we get one of those, coach?” There were three guys in the running, the punter, the quarterback and Khyalan. He ended up winning the award. I said every time we win we’re going to give [someone] the Mandrake jersey. It’s, you wear it to practice. Eventually I want to get a black helmet. That’s the award, that’s what we do. It’s kind of a fun award, the players were excited about it when I presented it to them.”