Freshman Jayden Daniels not content after his first career start
As Jayden Daniels took the field for his inaugural drive as a Sun Devil, he was in the process of making history.
The first play of the drive would set forth a motion of events that has been in the works since the moment he stepped on campus earlier this year for spring practice.
Daniels would become the first true freshman to start at quarterback on opening day in the school’s history.
As Daniels took the opening snap he faked a handoff to Eno Benjamin turned around and fired a ball deep downfield. Nearly twenty yards past receiver Brandon Aiyuk. A mistake made by a contrasting view on how the coverage was read by both players.
“That’s a freshman mistake,” Daniels admitted. “That’s on me.”
The incomplete pass labeled as a ‘freshman mistake’ by Daniels would turn out to be one of only nine incompletions on the night as Daniels would go on to complete 15 of his 24 attempts.
Daniels would rack up a total of 284 yards through the air along with two touchdowns while adding a touchdown on the ground during his collegiate debut.
To put the performance into perspective, it was the most yards by a Sun Devil quarterback in their first career game since 1996. Prior to tonight, the record was 160 yards by Jeff Krohn on 8/31/2000 versus San Diego State.
Despite what can be objectively labeled as the best statistical first start in school history, Daniels is still not content.
“It’s a special moment (to) go out there and get my first college win but there’s a lot we have to improve on,” Daniels stated. “I can’t be content with the win, there’s a lot that we have to improve on. Myself, receivers, running back, the whole offense has to improve on a lot of things. But I thank Coach Likens, the offensive line, Eno and all of them for helping me out to get this win.”
While Daniels may not have been content with his first game as a Sun Devil, there was a lot that fans can be content with moving forward.
The true freshman showed his arm talent which was on display from the get-go. Just two plays after misfiring on his pass to Aiyuk, Daniels found Frank Darby for a 42-yard gain, the first completion of his career.
Daniels also showed a sense of composure in the pocket despite being under a barrage of pressure all night long in tune to a total of five sacks by Kent State.
Even with the constant pressure, the freshman’s ability to handle the pressure and still make plays was one that led to offensive coordinator Rob Likens being overall pleased with the performance.
“He had pressure, he did not have any foolish turnovers,” Likens said. “I thought he did very well securing the football and sliding when he had to slide and sometimes taking a sack you just take that sack. He threw a couple of them away (which) we he had to (do), and he did a great job.”
Likens only gripe about Daniels play? The quarterback’s actions when flanked out as a receiver when fellow freshman Ethan Long enters the game in the team’s Sparky formation.
“You just got to make sure [Daniels] doesn’t try to go out for passes,” Likens remarked. “He likes to do that in practice and I get onto him all the time. He thinks he’s a wide receiver, I said, ‘look stickman, just get out of bounds alright?’”
Likens comments about Daniels being safe during these plays is part of a much larger picture around the safety of the quarterback who weighs in at 175 lbs.
Head coach Herm Edwards echoes Likens concern about the safety of the quarterback, especially when Daniels gets outside of the pocket and looks to make plays with his feet.
“I kept telling him when you run know when the journey is over,” Edwards stated. “We didn’t recruit you to run. When we got a runner just slide, and he did a nice job to slide. He extended a couple of plays very nicely.”
Extending and making plays as Edwards eluded to is something that Daniels excelled at in his first start as he totaled 12 rushing attempts during his debut.
The true freshman was able to avoid defenders while making key plays during the game and was evident in his first touchdown pass.
Daniels sidestepped a defender before finding an open Benjamin in the endzone for the first of his two touchdown passes on the night, the second of which came on a 77-yard catch and run by Brandon Aiyuk.
Daniels was able to escape sacks, pick up first downs and extend plays all with his feet while also being conscious of his health while doing so as he routinely slid and got out of bounds.
While he was smart and safe with his legs, the freshman had a few more ‘freshman mistakes’ throughout the game including two delay of game penalties.
“I told you guys, that’s what it’s going to look like,” Edwards admitted. “He’s a freshman. He’s not going to go out there and throw five touchdown passes like everybody may have assumed. He’s going to get better every week. What I like about the guy, he’s got composure. He never panicked, just came over with a smile on his face and just kept playing.”
That sense of maturity and being able to handle the moment is one of the main reasons that the Sun Devil coaching staff has eluded to as to why Daniels was ultimately named the starter.
It may be hard at times to fathom Daniels unique ability to constantly to be composed given he was in high school just one year ago.
It may be his ability to look calm and collected on the field, or maybe it's his redirection of credit to those around him.
Whatever it may be, Daniels doesn’t seem to be affected by labels given to him.
First true freshman starting quarterback on opening day or not, Daniels just wants to do his fair share to a team win in any way he can.
“I honestly don’t look at those type of things,” Daniels stated of his thoughts of being the first true freshman to start on opening day. “That’s something I’ve tried not to pay attention to. These guys don’t treat me like I’m a freshman, they treat me like an upperclassman so sometimes they forget I’m a freshman. I really don’t pay attention to those type of things, I’m just here to help the team win in any way possible.”
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