Thursday, February 27, 2020

Scouting the Sun Devils: How Michigan State plans to stop Eno Benjamin and Jayden Daniels

September 11, 2019
<p>Freshman defensive back Xavier Henderson (3) runs in between drills during practice on April 3, 2018, inside Duffy Daugherty Football Building.</p>

Freshman defensive back Xavier Henderson (3) runs in between drills during practice on April 3, 2018, inside Duffy Daugherty Football Building.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Brian Lewerke remembers the flight back to campus after then No. 15 Michigan State's 16-13 loss to Arizona State.

It was long and depressing. Sour and disappointing too. After containing ASU through 45 minutes of game action, the Spartans were outscored 13-0 in the three-point loss.

For Lewerke, there was some added weight to his shoulders when MSU played the Sun Devils. Lewerke was back home. He played high school ball about 30 minutes from Sun Devil Stadium. After practice Tuesday evening, Lewerke admitted that he wasn't a huge ASU fan growing up, but out of the two big state schools, it was his favorite.

And he definitely took that loss personally.

That's why when the Sun Devils make the return trip to East Lansing Saturday afternoon (4:00 p.m., FOX), Lewerke and the Spartans will have some extra motivation.

“I want to be able to beat them, just because its my home town," Lewerke said. "It would be nice to, but we’re just focused on going 3-0” 

MSU has failed to finish undefeated in the non-conference portion of its schedule every year since 2015. To get to 3-0 — and finish "phase two," as Dantonio calls it — unblemished, the Spartans will have to keep tabs on ASU junior running back Eno Benjamin and true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels.

Benjamin has had an average start to the year. Between two games against Kent State and Sacramento State, he has carried the ball 46 times for just 171 yards and has failed to score this season.

MSU's defense did a great job bottling Benjamin up a year ago, as he ran for only 27 yards on 13 carries.

“He was a real good back," sophomore safety Xavier Henderson said. "He makes people miss a lot. He’s very good after contact. It's going be a big challenge this week, so it will be fun and we’re looking forward to it."

Henderson said he expects the Sun Devil offense to use Benjamin's speed to their advantage against the run-stuffing defense of MSU.

“They just do different things to get him the ball, different places. They're not going to run him inside the tackles all of the time," Henderson said. "They are going to find different ways to get him the ball, whether that's passing, catching.” 

Daniels — a dual-threat five-star quarterback out of San Bernadino, California — has jumped into college football with ease, replacing three-year starter Manny Wilkins. Over ASU's first two games, Daniels has completed 62 percent of his passes and has thrown three touchdowns without an interception. He's added 38 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

“Just watch game film on him, his first two games, you can see right away, as soon as you put on the tape, that he can throw the ball," Henderson said. "He’s getting it sideline-to-sideline. You can just tell that even though he’s a freshman, he doesn’t play like a freshman."

The Spartans have a chance at redemption Saturday. A chance to right a failure.

And MSU knows its chance at revenge against the Sun Devils begins with slowing down its backfield, both through the air and on the ground.

“Anytime you lose it's gonna leave a salty taste in your mouth," senior safety David Dowell said. "This is a game that ... we lost last year, so we owe them something, and that’s kind of how we look at it.”

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