STANFORD — Making your first collegiate start on the road can be intimidating. But when coach Troy Taylor saw Ashton Daniels early on in Stanford’s 37-24 season-opening win at Hawaii on Friday night, Taylor knew his quarterback would be just fine.
“Just his demeanor,” Taylor said. “You can see in his facial expressions, the tightness of his skin, his eyes — all those things that we all do as human beings, you can see that on the sideline, and he was the same guy that he was in practice.”
After throwing just six passes last year as a freshman, Daniels completed 25 of 36 passes for 248 yards and two TDs and rushed a team-high 11 times for 42 yards against the Rainbow Warriors. The sophomore didn’t turn the ball over or take a sack.
Daniels and Stanford stay on the road Saturday to play No. 6 USC (2-0) at the L.A. Coliseum. It will be a far more intimidating environment and a far better opponent, but at least Daniels showed he wasn’t fazed by his first start.
“You’re always wondering what they’re seeing when they get into the game and there are live bullets flying, people are in their face,” Taylor said. “He did a really good job when he came to the sidelines. I would ask him what he saw and it was always really clear, so that led me to believe that he’s seeing it really well. It’s not too fast for him.”
Daniels’ performance seemed to validate Taylor’s decision to choose the Georgia native over Syracuse transfer Justin Lamson, which wasn’t made until the week of the game. It was one of the most significant offseason decisions for Taylor, a standout quarterback at Cal who previously coached Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Jake Browning at Washington and FCS Player of the Year Gage Gubrud at Eastern Washington at his former position.
Daniels was one of eight players who made their first career start for the Cardinal last week, including three offensive linemen — left tackle James Pogorelc, senior right tackle Connor McLaughlin and freshman right guard Simione Pale.
McLaughlin said that Daniels’s presence helped the inexperienced line, which also featured junior left guard Trevor Mayberry, who had transferred from Penn, and center Levi Rogers, who started at guard last year.
“Whole game he was cool as a cucumber,” McLaughlin said. “It makes everybody else feel better. I think it calmed us down, and he showed a lot of poise, especially for how young he is.”
Daniels is the son of Juan Daniels, who finished his Georgia career ranked third in school history in career receiving yards and second in career touchdown receptions. Ashton won three straight titles at Buford High and was the No. 34 pocket passer and No. 83 player in Georgia in his class, according to ESPN.
Daniels played 10 games last year as a wildcat quarterback, rushing 25 times for 156 yards and three TDs. Taylor didn’t plan for Daniels to lead the team in rushing attempts in the opener, he also didn’t want to limit the benefit of having a quarterback who can run.
“We will always have that in our arsenal,” Taylor said. “He’s a good runner, he’s very physical, he’s strong, he has good vision. We’ll pick our spots. Don’t know if he’ll run it as much this week. We’ll see how it plays out.
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“But the dual-threat quarterback is something that benefits us in the run game, with the additional hat.”
Stanford (1-0) will now go up against perhaps the best dual-threat quarterback in the nation in reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four) and also had a 46-yard run in USC’s 66-14 win over Nevada.
Including USC’s 56-28 win over San Jose State in their opener Williams has completed 74 percent of his attempts for 597 yards and nine touchdowns without an interception, a big reason USC is favored by more than four touchdowns against the Cardinal.
But McLaughlin is looking forward to the next edition of the rivalry – the last scheduled meeting between teams that will go to different conferences in 2024.
“This is why we play college football,” McLaughlin said. “All the early workouts, all the time invested, all the sacrifices you have to make. 7:30 p.m., prime time kickoff, rivalry game, packed house. That’s college football.”