View from the other side: Michigan State vs. Arizona State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
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Arizona State at Michigan State

►Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

►TV/radio: Fox/760

►Records: Both teams 2-0

►Line: Michigan State by 14

View from the other side

Michelle Gardner covers Arizona State for the Arizona Republic. She breaks down the Sun Devils for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Arizona State game at Spartan Stadium. You can follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

Jayden Daniels

►Question: Jayden Daniels has played well the first two weeks. How will the true freshman react to his first road game against a ranked opponent?

►Gardner: Coaches have said you can pipe in all the crowd noise you want, there is no way to replicate what it’s like to play on the road for the first time. What they have said since the day Jayden arrived is that they are amazed by his poise, presence and maturity. He really doesn’t get fazed by anything. So that should serve him well with each challenge, including playing on the road.

►Question: Will the young offensive line be able to gain any traction against MSU’s veteran front seven?

►Gardner: That remains to be seen. The biggest thing that threw everyone for a loop was the unavailability of LT Zach Robertson, who is away from the team for personal reasons. They moved C Cohl Cabal to left tackle because that is such an important spot and they didn’t have another option there. Then they guy they settled on at center, Cade Cote, broke his foot, thus they are now starting a true freshman there, right next to a redshirt freshman at right guard. So it’s still a work in progress.

►Question: Speaking of running the ball, Eno Benjamin had just 27 yards in last year’s meeting. What’s the key to getting him going?

►Gardner: Again, it all goes back to the offensive line, and teams are putting an extra guy in the box too, so that’s complicating matters. They have done a good job of getting Eno the ball in the passing game. That was an area of emphasis during the offseason and Eno spent a lot of extra time working on route running etc.

►Question: Who are some names to watch out for on the Sun Devils’ defense that has allowed only 14 points this season?

Merlin Robertson

►Gardner: Merlin Robertson was Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. But to throw out there a lesser-known name, look for sophomore NT DJ Davidson. He broke his foot last year against USC and missed all of spring. He has been very impressive and was the team’s player of the game last week. Also, senior LB Khaylan Thomas has worked his way into the lineup after being a bench guy for three years. The deepest part of the defense is the secondary; they have had a lot of newcomers see time there.

►Question: What’s the biggest key to Arizona State winning this matchup for the second straight season?

►Gardner: The defense will have to keep the game close and they are going to have to make some big plays on offense. Daniels has been rushed a lot, so he hasn’t had a lot of chances to really go downfield. The special teams guys have been phenomenal with P Michael Turk the best in the country, so they have benefited from good field position.

Players to watch

►Jayden Daniels, QB: Daniels has played well for the Sun Devils, becoming the first true freshman in program history to start the first game of the season and the third quarterback in ASU history to win his first career start. He has a pair of 70-plus-yard touchdown passes in the first two weeks and his 304 passing yards against Sacramento State were the third-most by a Sun Devils freshman in program history. How Daniels handles the big stage will be the biggest story with the Sun Devils offense, which is young and has yet to truly get going against defenses far inferior to the Michigan State defense it will face this week.

Eno Benjamin

►Eno Benjamin, RB: Providing a steady veteran hand for a young group, the junior ran for more than 1,600 yards last season while scoring 16 rushing touchdowns. Benjamin has run for 100 or more yards 10 times in his career, including the opener this season against Kent State, and he’s among the top 20 in the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging 148.50 through two games. He didn’t have much of an impact in last season’s matchup, but he has amassed 1,955 career rushing yards.

►Merlin Robertson, LB: The sophomore was named the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2018 after leading the team in tackles (77), tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (5.0) while recording an interception, breaking up two passes, and recovering a fumble. He was the first freshman to lead the team in tackles in 17 years. A Freshman All-American, Robertson had nine tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble last season against the Spartans.

Facts and figures

►Getting defensive: Arizona State is fifth in the nation, allowing just seven points a game through the first two weeks. The Sun Devils have held opponents to 30 or less points in 11 of 15 games under defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales and are one of just six teams to not allow a first-half point this year. Arizona State allowed 25.5 points a game last season, a notable improvement over the previous season when it gave up 32.8 points a game.

►Points on the board: Arizona State holds the longest active FBS streak for consecutive games scoring more than 7 points, reaching at least that number in the last 136 straight games. The Sun Devils last failed to reach seven points when they were shut out, 28-0, against No. 8 Southern Cal in 2008. They have scored 30 or more points in 76 of those games (55.9 percent).

►Youth movement: The Sun Devils played 25 freshmen in the season opener (15 true freshmen, 10 redshirt freshmen), the most in the modern era at Arizona State. It’s the third-highest total in the country behind only Clemson (38 -- 27/11) and Baylor (35 -- 20/15). Eight other non-freshmen made their Sun Devil debuts for a total of 33 players that were either redshirt freshmen or appearing in their first games at ASU out of just 61 total players that entered the game in the opener.

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