Freshman Daniels Leads Arizona State to 30-7 Win in Opener
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Jayden Daniels passed for a pair of touchdowns and ran for another in his Arizona State debut, and the Sun Devils shut out the Kent State Golden Flashes for three quarters in a 30-7 win Thursday night in a season opener.
Daniels finished 15 of 24 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona State has won 21 straight home openers and got its first win over a Mid-American Conference opponent.
The Sun Devils held the Golden Flashes to 200 total yards — 80 passing — and recovered two fumbles. Kent State, which went with two quarterbacks in juniors Woody Barrett and Dustin Crum, lost its sixth straight opener.
Daniels, who played the entire game except for a few snaps at receiver, became the first true freshman to start the season opener in the modern era of Sun Devils football, which began in 1972 when freshmen became eligible to play.
"It's the first win. Just happy, proud moment," Daniels said. "At first I was nervous but actually after the game settled down, it was just having fun playing football all over again, Pop Warner, high school and everything else."
Daniels' first career touchdown pass was 8 yards to running back Eno Benjamin with 3:57 left in the first quarter. He hit Brandon Aiyuk on a 77-yard screen pass that went for another score in the third quarter.
"A little inconsistent, couple of bad reads when he should have ran the ball a couple of times," Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards said. "But look, he's a freshman quarterback. For the most part, he did some good things too. The one thing I liked about the guy, no matter what was going on in the game, he was always composed."
Benjamin, who set an Arizona State single-season school record with 1,642 rushing yards last season — a total that led the Pac-12 — had 102 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Kent State, 2-10 last season, managed just one drive into the Arizona State half of the field in the first half. The Golden Flashes were stopped on downs at the Sun Devils 34 in the first quarter.
"The defense did a fabulous job. Special teams was flipping the field, then the defense held them to some field goals and those were big-time wins," Kent State head coach Sean Lewis said. "You need to seize those opportunities and it's the duty of the offense, when there's opportunity in those positions in the game to inject some life in the sideline and go get points and invigorate the bench."
Barrett found sophomore Isaiah McKoy for a 21-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter for the Golden Flashes' only points.
A 10-0 halftime lead became 27-0 in the third quarter with Daniels' 1-yard touchdown run, the second of three Cristian Zendejas field goals and the highlight play of the night, the touchdown to Aiyuk, which was the longest pass play of his college career.
"It's basically give him a good ball and let him do what he's got to do," Daniels said. "That's all him."
Zendejas was the place-kicker in the absence of Brandon Ruiz, who dealt with a lower-body injury.
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Daniels completed the first pass of his college career with 12:41 left in the first quarter, a 42-yard connection with Frank Darby. Then he took his first sack, for a 6-yard loss, moments later.
Zendejas, a walk-on redshirt sophomore, hit field goals from 35, 31 and 40 yards. The Sun Devils also had to turn to freshman Dohnovan West with No. 1 center Cade Cote unable to play.
"In the NFL they say 'Next man up'," Edwards said. "That's how it was at a lot of positions. Last night we found out the kicker was a little sore ... Then the center gets hurt earlier in the week and its 'OK, who's up?' That's the way it works around here."
Kent State: Hanging with a solid Pac-12 team in 102-degree heat for a half was something to build off of, but the Golden Flashes couldn't sustain the effort on defense and were victimized on offense by dropped passes and a low third-down conversion rate.
Arizona State: Daniels looked poised for an 18-year-old true freshman leading a major program's offense, and was just one of many freshmen to take the field for ASU. Daniels will need to get rid of the ball a little faster before taking a sack, as he took five Thursday. But he showed he could hit open receivers on the run and provided an added dimension with his ability to run with the ball.
Kent State: The Golden Flashes host Kennesaw State in their home opener on Sept. 7.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils host Sacramento State on Sept. 6, with three of their first four games at home.