TEMPE – With two and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, Arizona State found itself down by three points to Washington State.
“I walked over to Jayden (Daniels) like I always do. He said, ‘I know.’ I said, ‘All right, well, go do it. This is it. No more. We won’t get the ball back again.’ He said, ‘Coach, I got you,'” ASU football coach Herm Edwards said of his chat with his true freshman quarterback.
In the ensuing drive, Daniels proved that he was not lying and he did, in fact, have it.
With 41 ticks of the clock left in regulation, ASU was on WSU’s 17-yard line. The offense was set up with three receivers to Daniels’ right and one to his left. He called the play. WSU was all over ASU’s receivers and there were no lanes to throw the ball.
Daniels saw an opening on the left side and made a break for it.
He hit the 15, the 10, the 5 and when he hit the 3, he made the decision to go for the end zone. Daniels leaped, was hit by two WSU defenders, twirled around like a helicopter blade and landed on his backside in the end zone.
On a play that was eerily similar to John Elway’s helicopter run in Super Bowl XXXII, Daniels had just given the Sun Devils the lead, 38-34, with 34 seconds left. And that is where it stayed.
“I didn’t expect him to do a Superman leap and do all that, but it’s just quite an effort from these guys,” Edwards said.
In his true freshman season, Daniels and the Sun Devils offense now have three game-winning drives, the others being against Michigan State and California.
“We want to refrain from game-winning drives, but it felt just like the other two,” Daniels said. “Nothing different. Just stay composed and as you go down the field, score.”
Edwards said he is happy about the win. But the way ASU keeps doing it might be wearing on him.
“These guys are going to give me a heart attack. What are y’all doing, I’m 65 years old,” Edwards said with a coy smile and a laugh.
“I can’t really explain it. It’s a great feeling because we won the game off of it but, you know, going back to look at it, having a big game like we had as an offense today,” Daniels said. “BA, Eno, o-line played really well today. It’s just a really good team win.”
Indeed, receiver Brandon Aiyuk, running back Eno Benjamin and the offensive line contributed to the effort.
Against a WSU team that came in leading the country in passing yards per game with 450, placing fourth in the nation in total offense, 546.8, and eighth in scoring per game with 44.8 points, Edwards knew his team had to do what it had been struggling to do this season: put some points on the board.
“We talked about it this week,” Edwards said. “This was not going to be a 14-17 game. It was going to be in the 30’s and we talked about it last night in our meeting that we have got to score 30-plus points.”
That’s exactly what ASU did. Daniels ended the game 26 of 36 for 363 yards and three passing touchdowns, all to senior receiver Aiyuk, as well as that heroic rushing touchdown.
Aiyuk, on the other hand, had one of his best games with the Sun Devils. He ended the game with seven receptions, 196 yards and three touchdowns while junior running back Eno Benjamin had 137 yards and one touchdown.
Aiyuk was fighting off cramps and a cold during the second half, but he said during the game, he forgot all about it because it was time to win.
WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon did all he could in the loss. He threw the ball 64 times and completed passes to nine different receivers. He threw for three touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over.
Edwards said his team let WSU get in a groove early by playing zone defense and not putting pressure on Gordon, so he consulted with defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales and came up with a plan to switch to cat coverage, which is basically man coverage.
“You get that cat, I got this cat,” Edwards said.
The ASU team is young, playing 29 freshmen regularly, and Benjamin said he, as the elder statesman, loves having these guys around.
“We step in here and we knew what the situation was going to be and no one panicked about it, Benjamin said. “I say it all the time, the way (Daniels) conducts himself at practice, you would never guess he is a freshman and that’s a testament to him.”
The win brings the Sun Devils to 5-1 (2-1 in the Pac-12) as they prepare to go to Utah Saturday in what could be a matchup that decides the conference’s South Division.