ASU Football: Eno Benjamin, Cohl Cabral helping Jayden Daniels develop
(Photo: Brady Klain/WCSN)
When Arizona State (4–1, 1–1 Pac-12) junior running back Eno Benjamin broke through a tackle and bounced to the outside early in the first quarter of the Sun Devils win over California, he wasn’t looking to just walk into the end zone.
Benjamin sought contact and got his wish when senior wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk let go of his block on California defensive back Camryn Bynum, allowing the 2018 First Team Pac-12 All-Conference running back to run through Bynum despite already being steps into the end zone.
“I was praying Brandon [Aiyuk] let him go in the end zone,” Benjamin said. “That’s one of their best players and I feel like to set the tone you’ve gotta go at one of them, and that’s what I was trying to do there.”
Benjamin’s 11-yard first-quarter touchdown against Cal wasn’t the first time he had finished a run by seeking contact despite already being steps into the end zone. The Wylie, Texas, native had done the same in ASU’s 41–40 win over Arizona last November.
“The U of A game, that was because it was U of A,” Benjamin said. “They were doing a lot of talking after tackling so I was just kind of feeling it.”
That fierce mentality from Benjamin is one that has shown through during the Sun Devils first five games of 2019. Benjamin remains one of the most integral parts of the Arizona State offense, totaling over 540 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns during ASU’s 4–1 start.
With the Sun Devils starting a true freshman quarterback in Jayden Daniels, Benjamin is being asked to do more than he was in 2018, when he led the Pac-12 in rushing yards (1642) and rushing touchdowns (16). At times this season Benjamin has approached the offensive line, leaned in and conversed with senior center Cohl Cabral, something that seldom, if ever, happened with former Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins.
“This year I feel like I had to take more of a role in being vocal and stepping up,” Benjamin said. “I feel like I’m comfortable enough in the offense and knowing what we’ve got going on to know what’s going on and what’s taking place and how we can check a play to make it better or check it a certain direction because we have numbers.
After early struggles along the offensive line, Cabral, who started the first two games at left tackle, was moved back to center prior to the Sun Devils’ road victory over No.18 Michigan State. The senior center said he and Benjamin have worked together to help relieve Daniels of some of the pressures of playing the quarterback position.
“We don’t want to put so much on Jayden to where he’s overwhelmed on it,” Cabral said. “Granted, he’s stepped up and taken more on his plate, but still letting him go out there and not think so much and just go out and play [is important].”
Cabral’s move back to center has improved the communication between quarterback, running back, and center. With two of the previous three games coming against ranked opponents on the road, Daniels has been sacked just four times.
“Cohl does a great job of calling [the protections] out, and Eno helps out a lot too,” Daniels said. “The one thing I harped on [since arriving at ASU] was trying to learn the protections. [Quarterbacks coach Mike Bercovici] helped me out a lot with that, so knowing that whatever Cohl calls, I know it. Eno knows it. We’re all on the same page because us three matter the most.”
As the No. 18 Sun Devils come out of their bye week, Daniels, Benjamin and Cabral will look to improve an offense that Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards said has room for improvement. The Sun Devils offense — averaging 22.8 points per game — gets a chance to improve this Saturday against Washington State at 12:30 p.m. in Tempe.
When talking to reporters on Tuesday, Arizona State offensive coordinator Rob Likens said he spent the bye week watching football and came away with an appreciation for Daniels.
“He’s really special in that area,” Likens said about Daniels’ understanding of the offensive scheme. “He’s able to talk, listen to me while I’m talking, and he’s looking up the field, he’s looking around.
“This weekend, I sat down and watched a lot of football. I watched a lot of young quarterbacks, and I was like, ‘I’m glad we got this guy.’ I’ll say that.”