For the first time in program history, Kent State travels several time zones west to take on Arizona State of the Pac-12. Both head coaches, Sean Lewis and Herm Edwards, are entering their second season with their respective programs. Arizona State opens as 24.5-point favorites over the Flashes, and Kent State will have to stop several of the Sun Devils’ weapons including star running back Eno Benjamin in order to pull off the upset.
Steve Helwick, Hustle Belt: We saw another 7-6 result on the field, but how has the program changed in terms of a schematic or cultural shift since Herm Edwards was hired to replace Todd Graham?
Brady Vernon, House of Sparky: The change has been similar to that of once having an overly strict parent to one that knows the balance of teaching manners and letting them have fun. From the first day Edwards told the players to be themselves. In the stretching line he’ll dance to the music with them, sessions later he’ll grab a player who may have messed up a play and talk to them one-on-one. There is nearly no yelling, unless someone upsets Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum, which is vastly different than the Graham era. People around the program believe they’re building something that can become special.
Helwick: What have you seen out of true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels in summer and fall camp? Do you expect the Sun Devils to have a smooth QB transition from the Manny Wilkins era?
Vernon: Jayden Daniels doesn’t seem to be your typical true freshman quarterback. He’s very careful with the ball, but not to the point that he doesn’t throw the ball down the field. He’s also very mature off the field and humble. Daniels has looked very good in practice since the spring, he throws with anticipation, solid velocity and good decision making. The Kent State will be the first stage Daniels can go create those backyard types of plays he did a lot of in high school. The transition seems it’ll be smooth because Daniels has been at ASU since the spring, it helps to have a guy like Eno Benjamin behind him.
Helwick: Running back Eno Benjamin enters the year as a preseason All-American. Kent State allowed over 220 rushing yards per game last year (114th in FBS). How dominant do you expect Benjamin’s opener to be, and could this performance give him a head start in the Heisman race?
Vernon: Speaking of Benjamin, he’ll probably be dominant game against Kent State. However, the numbers he puts up will probably depends on the amount of time he plays. If the plan is similar to last season, Benjamin will most likely get a heavy workload against Michigan State and the Pac-12. The staff will probably try to keep him fresh as possible. They also will want to see Isaiah Floyd and A.J. Carter, who have been battling for the backup role all fall camp.
Helwick: What do you expect of the opening night atmosphere at Sun Devil Stadium on Thursday? Herm Edwards is 4-1 against ranked opponents at home base, but is there a chance fans and the team could overlook Kent State?
Vernon: Going to be honest, the atmosphere will be hit or miss? Parking is tough around ASU on a school night, it’ll be hot, really hot. The first quarter will probably be loud, but if the game goes how it’s expected then the student section will most likely hit Mill Ave. or the nearest Cane’s. The fans might overlook Kent State, the team won’t. They’ve never set a goal of wanting to beat a certain team, ASU talks about 18 instead. They want to secure its 18th conference title and I doubt they let themselves look over anyone.
Helwick: Which Arizona State defenders should we keep an eye on Week 1 when Woody Barrett and the Golden Flashes have the ball?
Vernon: The defenders to watch for now will be Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler in the linebackers core. The first few weeks will have Defensive Coordinator Danny Gonzales and company trying to figure out the defensive line rotation. Edwards, who wants to play 15-20 freshmen this season, will probably try to get a lot of the talented freshmen defensive backs playing time. Thus why I expect Robertson, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, and Butler to rack up tackles and probably a sack or two.
Finally, what goes down in Tempe on Thursday? Score prediction?
I’d guess 45-13. Benjamin scores at least twice, Daniels puts up a total of 300 yards.
Kent State begins its season at Arizona State on Thursday, August 28. Kickoff is slated for 10 p.m. ET and the game can be caught on Pac-12 Network.