Column: A deep dive into Herm Edwards’ mistakes with Jayden Daniels at his offensive helm | Sports

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Arizona State Football is not in an ideal position heading into the 2022-23 college football season. They’ve improved little on the field since their promising 8-5 campaign in 2019, led by then-freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, and are now under investigation for recruiting violations.

This has led to many players on the team opting for a change of scenery, including Daniels, who joined LSU after the 2021 season. With the football program in turmoil, all eyes have turned to their head coach, Herm Edwards.

Prior to Edwards’ hiring, Arizona State had endured two disappointing seasons with then-head coach Todd Graham. After losing just seven games combined in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the Sun Devils lost seven in each of their next two seasons before ending the Todd Graham era with a 7-6 record and a blowout loss at the Sun Bowl .

They gave Edwards a chance and while he didn’t do anything too unexpected in his first season, he did have some unexpected wins.

The Sun Devils mauled the PAC-12 South Division winner in Utah, dominating most stat categories and showing their potential under Edwards. The future looked bright and what happened next would skyrocket her expectations.

2019: The Making of Jayden Daniels

After quarterback Manny Wilkins graduated after the 2018 season, Jayden Daniels was immediately pushed into the starting freshman role.

He adapted quickly, exceeding nearly 3,000 passing yards and completing 61% of his passes with an outstanding 17-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In tight play scenarios, he showed he could turn the team on their backs, catching fire in crunch time on several occasions.

He threw an interception that cost them against Colorado but responded aptly with strong performances in his next two matchups. That included an incredible fourth quarter against Washington State in which he completed 82% of his passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a game-winning 17-yard rush.

They looked like a formidable PAC-12 contender with Daniels at quarterback and started the season 5-1. There was just one problem.

defense, what is that?

Though No. 18 Michigan State was on seven points early in the season, that proved to be a stroke of luck once conference play began.

In losses to Colorado and UCLA, both of which had mediocre offenses, their opponents scored at will, with Colorado scoring on every first-half possession and UCLA allocating six touchdowns in their first seven possessions. Jayden Daniels often had to catch up to give his team a chance.

This team was frustrating, looking like a PAC-12 contender against the conference’s best teams and ineffective against their worst. They defeated three ranked teams, including No. 6 Oregon and No. 15 Cal, and almost beat USC without Daniels on the field.

You can’t tell me that a team capable of beating the top, third best, and fourth best teams in its conference can’t beat the seventh, eighth, and ninth. This shows a lack of discipline that became an issue throughout the program with Edwards.

Questionable losses, questionable decisions

After fighting off a 14-point deficit against Oregon State and ending opposing offense, Edwards decided to risk the game in a situation where it wasn’t warranted, choosing to play two rather than the game with one tie extra point. They had all the momentum and probably would have carried it into overtime and won, but instead they failed to convert and lost.

It may just be a moment in the game, but it’s moments like this that show Edward’s lack of composure and decision-making.

He would then fire his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rob Likens, who had done a great job minimizing Daniel’s mistakes and giving him endless opportunities to make big plays despite his lack of experience and mediocre offensive line. While Likens’ offense struggled at times, particularly in the first half, he only had two seasons with the program and showed enough positive results to warrant at least another year with the program.

It was clear throughout conference play that defense was the team’s main problem as they gave up 29 points per game against opponents in conference. But instead of firing their defensive coordinator (who left of his own volition), they fired someone with whom their freshman heart had built good chemistry and under whom they had thrived.

2021: How a discipline drop destroyed a championship run

In the team’s first three losses of the 2021–22 season, they either lost the turnover battle, were attributed over 100 yards on penalties, or both.

They took on BYU early on and surpassed them in yards, third-down efficiency, and yards per pass and rush attempt. But it seemed like every time they wanted to steal the momentum, they flipped the ball.

This started early on when Arizona State fumbled on the inaugural kickoff, leading to seven points the other way just three games later. They went on to commit three more turnovers (all in or near BYU territory) and 16 penalties, with every error stagnating every swing they could achieve.

They would lose 27-17 and only lose because of discipline.

After responding effectively to their loss to BYU and dominating their next three games, including a 19-point win over No. 20 UCLA, they were 14 points ahead at halftime against Utah when…

Did you hear about the brief disappearance of Utah’s punter?

Jokes aside, Arizona State took its foot off the gas and lost focus, giving up a touchdown on every defensive possession and going 28-0 in what can best be described as an implosion on both sides of the ball. Unlike their last matchup, where Utah was clearly the better team, Arizona State was on par with Utah and for two quarters they looked like the better of the two teams.

If Arizona State wins those two games, they’ll be 7-0 on their way to their easiest stretch of play. But instead they were 5-2 with morale down. They lost their next matchup to Washington State in an embarrassing manner, with four turnovers committed by the end of the first half.

They finished the season with the same 8-5 record they set in the 2019 season, with no improvement in overall wins, despite their star quarterback being more experienced, an increase in yards-per-game and huge improvements on the defensive side of the ball .

Who is to Blame for Arizona State’s Shortcomings?

While Arizona State finished the season in the top-25 in points and yards gave up defensively per game (a first under Edwards), the Sun Devils were on the bottom end in turnovers, penalties and red-zone offense, the latter of the land of it was one of Likens’ strengths. Offensive balance had also deteriorated as the new offensive coordinator opted to become more running-oriented and take away one of Daniels’ greatest strengths.

He’s a great runner, but his arm is what made him so effective in his first season.

He was still efficient in some respects, increasing his completion rate and getting fewer layoffs than his freshman season, but he only threw 10 touchdown passes and matched that with his tally of interceptions. While he rushed for 700 yards, those numbers were bolstered by his performances against Arizona, Stanford and Colorado, who had the worst rushing defenses in the PAC-12 last season.

While Daniels shares the blame for his shortcomings, I feel like most of his struggles stem from the change in coaching staff, diminished receiving core, and lack of discipline and morale leadership.

His former offensive coordinator trusted him more and complemented his strengths better. With fewer passing attempts, it was likely more difficult to maintain a rhythm throughout the game, potentially leading to more interceptions.

Not to mention he no longer had Brandon Aiyuk or Frank Darby on his sidelines. While Arizona State has done a solid job recruiting wide receivers, they haven’t been able to develop enough to make a bigger impact. He won’t have that problem with LSU, whose receiver room is filled with veteran talent including Kayshon Boutte, Jack Bech, Malik Nabers and others.

The biggest problem with Arizona State football is discipline, and I don’t see that changing with Herm Edwards as head coach.

In its 2019 season, the team lost to three teams with losing records, beating three ranked teams in the process. I could understand if they drew a Stanford and only hit one, but it’s clear they were prepared to battle the best of the conference and playtime against the worst.

In her next full season in 2021, it was the turnovers and penalties, particularly in key games. It’s not just about giving up possession and distance, it’s about maintaining or building momentum. Penalties stop play and push your team back, and turnovers hurt an offensive’s confidence.

Meanwhile, Brian Kelly’s teams have finished in the top 50 in terms of turnovers for the past five seasons, and while inconsistent in terms of penalties, they have only achieved three finishes outside the top 60 in the category since 2013.

Daniels is in a better position at LSU and will have time to develop under Brian Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Joe Sloan before theoretically taking the offensive line in 2023 or sooner. While any prediction about the future discipline of LSU football is largely speculative, every coach is well employed and has played an important role on great teams.

Kelly led Notre Dame to multiple playoffs, Denbrock coordinated offense for another playoff team in Cincinnati, and Sloan played multiple roles at a Conference USA competitor at Louisiana Tech, including inside wide receivers coach, assistant coach, and offensive coordinator.

On the other hand, I don’t see Arizona State breaking that 8-5 plateau while Herm Edwards is still involved in the program. They might win some big games, but their endless troubles will continue to crush them when it matters most.

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