Eno Benjamin caught a 72-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, Cristian Zendejas kicked four field goals and Arizona State labored to a 19-7- win over FCS Sacramento State on Friday night.
Arizona State (2-0) overcame inexperience — 25 freshmen saw action — with a convincing 30-7 opening win against Kent State.
The Sun Devils had a few growing pains against the Hornets (1-1) after beating them 55-0 in the teams’ only other meeting.
Arizona State’s offense sputtered, plagued by off-target passes, drops and an ineffective running game against a team ranked 115th in total defense last season — in the FCS.
Arizona State’s defense was solid until Kevin Thomson hit Pierre Williams on a 40-yard pass, then Tao McClinton on a 9-yard TD that pulled the Hornets within 12-7 in the fourth quarter.
The Sun Devils finally broke it open late, when Benjamin slipped out of the backfield for a 72-yard catch-and-run TD from Jayden Daniels, who threw for 304 yards.
Until then, Arizona State had a hard time getting out of its own way.
Struggling early, the Sun Devils finally got a spark early in the second quarter when Brandon Aiyuk returned a punt 38 yards to Sac State’s 9.
A touchdown seemed imminent when A.J. Carter caught a pass from Jayden Daniels, but he fumbled just before crossing into the end zone and the Hornets recovered.
The Sun Devils had another good opportunity when their defense stopped Sac State on a fourth-and-1 from its own 33-yard line.
They botched that, too.
An airmailed snap on a third down forced Ethan Long to fall on the ball and Arizona State to settle for Zendejas’ 36-yard field goal.
The Sun Devils led 3-0, were out-gained 131-78 and heard a few boos from the home crowd at halftime — not exactly what they had in mind for what was supposed to be a tuneup for next week’s game against No. 19 Michigan State.
Zendejas kicked two more field goals in the third quarter, one after Frank Darby’s 68-yard TD catch was wiped out Aiyuk’s blindside block well away from the ball.
Aiyuk next caught a 52-yard pass to the Hornets’ 5 and the Sun Devils lost a yard on three successive plays, leading to another Zendejas field goal to open the fourth quarter.