Bunkley-Shelton relives first touchdown; offensive line prepares for BYU
Scoring the first touchdown of a career is a special achievement for any football player. For a skill player, it’s more customary as it is their goal to get in the endzone. For a defensive player or a lineman, it’s a special treat to help contribute to the cause of your team.
However, for ASU redshirt freshman wide receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton, his first touchdown on Saturday night in the Sun Devils’ 37-10 victory over the UNLV Rebels meant so much more than that. On Jan. 17, the receiver announced on Twitter that his father, Michael, had passed away. He later switched his jersey number from No. 2 to No. 6 with redshirt junior receiver Geordon Porter as a tribute to his dad. Bunkley-Shelton reflected on the magnitude of his score after the game on Saturday, saying “he had to score.” when he got the ball, as he had made a promise to his father that he would score in the upcoming season before he passed.
On Tuesday, Bunkley-Shelton recapped the “once in a lifetime” play that fulfilled his promise to his father.
“My pre-snap read was realizing that (UNLV) was in a nice little Cover 3,” he said, smirking. “I realized the (cornerback) had to take me vertical, so it was like a skinny post, and I knew he had to bite hard on it. As soon as I ran it and I broke out, I knew that he was lost and didn’t know where to go. Then I knew I had to score; I just can’t get tackled out of bounds, so I was going to step back, but he was already high (in the air), so I stayed low and went into the endzone.”
Bunkley-Shelton was one of two young receivers who caught their first career touchdowns on Saturday night, as redshirt freshman Johnny Wilson snagged a three-yard ball from junior quarterback Jayden Daniels on a crossing route in the endzone.
On Monday, head coach Herm Edwards detailed the teething troubles of ASU’s slowly developing air attack, mentioning that Daniels and his receivers have only had six games to work together across the past year, so they’re still hashing things out and developing chemistry. This doesn’t apply to Bunkley-Shelton, though, as he’s been working with Daniels since they played seven-on-seven in the seventh grade.
“In college, it’s not like high school where you know everybody,” Bunkley-Shelton explained. “Everybody is from everywhere, so you really have to take time out of the day and go to ‘office hours’ after practice and run routes. We look at how the throws are and seeing how the routes work.”
“We just have to keep doing what we are doing little by little, progressing as we go. In the first game, we didn’t throw the ball very much; we threw it a lot more against UNLV. Against BYU, we are going to look to throw a lot, and if that doesn’t work, we have (redshirt freshman running back DeaMonte Trayanum) and (redshirt senior running back) Rachaad (White).”
Speaking of ASU’s two premier running backs, who are the focal point of the Sun Devil offense alongside Daniels, the two backs along with their running mates down the depth chart, are enjoying great success through the first two contests of the season. Since Dec. 11, 2020, the Sun Devils have scored 22 rushing touchdowns, the most by a Pac-12 team dating back to 1996.
A lot of their success can be attributed to a solid offensive line up front which has been learning and working together since the summer of 2020. Four out of the five linemen started for the Sun Devils last year, and two of them, redshirt sophomore LaDarius Henderson and junior Dohnovan West started in 2019. The group has done a solid job protecting Daniels, only allowing three sacks for a total of 11 yards, but if you ask the group, there’s a different type of blocking which they enjoy much, much more.
“It’s really exciting,” graduate student left tackle Kellen Diesch said on the prospect of blocking for the ASU running backs. “They’re a special group. They can make some great plays out there, and they make us look good. Having a key block that gets them in the endzone is probably my favorite part of playing football.”
“When everyone is healthy, they’re so dynamic,” redshirt sophomore right tackle Ben Scott said. “One comes on the field, and one goes off; you don’t really notice a difference. They go out there, fight for extra yards, and they’ll make some guys miss.”
While blocking for the Sun Devil running backs, the offensive line’s plays are always designed to create holes and lanes for them to run through. When blocking for Daniels, though, things become a bit more unpredictable.
“It’s different because, with Jayden, it’s usually scrambling compared to Chip and Rachaad where plays are designed,” Diesch elaborated. “You have to think on your feet more because, with Jayden, it’s a pass play, and I really don’t know what’s going on. It’s not a designed run, so when he takes off, you just have to find someone to block. They’re all fun to block for.”
On the other side of the offensive line, Scott is in his second-year starting for the Sun Devils, so this upcoming Saturday’s contest against No. 23, BYU will be the first time he’s started with fans in attendance.
The same is the case for Bunkley-Shelton, yet with their biggest challenge as a team lying in wait, both feel like the raucous Cougar crowd won’t faze them.
“I feel like no matter how loud it is, you just block out all of the noise,” Scott proclaimed. “In your mind, it’s quiet. I feel like it’s easy to key in on the cadence and your teammates' calls because that’s all you’re really focusing on.
“I’m embracing all of it,” Bunkley-Shelton remarked. “As a freshman having crowds (for the first time), I feed off that, I feed off the crowd. They can boo me, do whatever they want. It isn’t going to do anything but motivate me, so that’s what I look forward to. (Talking to me) is one mistake they shouldn’t make.”
ASU’s success against BYU starts with the offensive line. If the five men in the trenches are able to block; it gives opportunities to Daniels, the running backs, and the wide receivers. They will have to face a very physical BYU defensive line on Saturday, but this might be the test they need to see just what the Sun Devils are really made of.
“It’s going to be loud and a very physical ballgame,” Scott detailed. “Hopefully, we can get the run game going; go with some play-action pass and score a lot. (BYU) is going to come out firing and blitzing. They have high motors, so we have to be ready for a long, physical fight."
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