TEMPE – It isn’t unusual for a quarterback to call his offensive coordinator in the booth. So after Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels threw a 72-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter against Sacramento State, he called Rob Likens.
“We talk after every series,” Likens said. “After we threw the touchdown pass to Eno (Benjamin), he gets on the phone and calls me up and says, ‘Hey coach, that was a really good call.’ I was like, ‘Thanks, I appreciate it.’ Then, he goes, ‘OK, thanks, I just wanted to tell you that.’”
It was another unfreshman-like moment for the quarterback, who has impressed coaches and teammates with his poise and maturity. He faces another challenge Saturday at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan, where he will experience his first road game as a college quarterback.
Although ASU (2-0) was an underdog against MSU (2-0) last season, the Sun Devils won 16-13 in Tempe at Sun Devil Stadium, upsetting the Spartans in the second game with coach Herm Edwards at the helm for the program. This season, though, ASU heads into this matchup with a young quarterback and an offense that has seen its struggles early, against an MSU squad still with a stout defensive unit.
Despite that, Daniels said the team will embrace the underdog status, and he will do the same for his “freshman” position in his first road test.
“I am not really a freshman anymore,” Daniels said. “I don’t consider myself a freshman, but on paper, I am a freshman … (I know) they are going to test me and see what I can do.”
Daniels doesn’t believe that he will experience jitters in Spartan Stadium, which can seat about 75,000 fans on game day. When the game starts and Daniels is in a game zone, he said, “You don’t really hear the noise.”
Sun Devil senior wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk said he and the team also don’t consider Daniels a freshman at the position. Through two games, has completed 62.7 percent of his passing attempts for 588 yards and three touchdowns, and he also has a rushing touchdown to lead ASU to a win against Kent State and Sacramento State in Sun Devil Stadium.
“He won the job, so we just look at him as the quarterback,” Aiyuk said. “He is the quarterback now. The coaches trusted him to be the starting quarterback and that is what he is. We don’t look at him as a freshman. We just look at him as the guy that is going to lead this offense.”
Aiyuk believes Daniels has progressed as a college quarterback, giving him high praise.
“He is a special talent,” Aiyuk said. “… Just let him loose and let him do what he does. He is a great quarterback, and he is one of the best quarterbacks that I have ever played with.”
Edwards and Likens both acknowledged that they are interested to see how the young players react on the road in a hostile environment.
Likens, though, also doesn’t seem to have any worries about Daniels, saying the moment won’t affect his psyche. He loves Daniels’ attitude and mentality, Likens said, and doesn’t believe the freshman will be rattled.
“(Monday), we had a great talk walking off the practice field,” Likens said. “I thought maybe he was a little down, and he was like, ‘Coach, it is a long season. We just gotta get better.’ I was like, ‘Who is coaching who?’ His mindset is amazing in that way.”
Although Daniels said he has settled in as a college quarterback, he knows that he must learn from his mistakes and improve, especially against the Spartans.
Daniels will battle against another quarterback Saturday with Arizona ties. MSU senior quarterback Brian Lewerke is from Phoenix and went to Pinnacle High School. As Lewerke will look for revenge from last season against the Sun Devils, Daniels and ASU will look to spoil that and beat another ranked MSU squad.
ASU players on the roster last season know how it feels to beat the Spartans, and Daniels has confidence that the Sun Devils can have a repeat performance.
“We are always going to have confidence,” Daniels said. “I feel like they have confidence in me, being the quarterback, and I have confidence in them to make plays, pick up the protection and just go out there and execute.”