On Saturday at high noon, there will be a showdown between two Pac-12 South contenders that is rife with implications. Arizona State looks to bounce back from last week's loss while exacting some revenge from last year as they host the UCLA Bruins.
In preparation for this huge match-up, we went behind enemy lines with Ryan Rosenblatt, an editor for SB Nation's great UCLA site, BruinsNation.com. He gives us an insider's perspective on the reigning South champions and what they'll bring to Sun Devil Stadium this weekend.
House of Sparky: How good is this Bruins team right now?
Ryan Rosenblatt: I think it's tough to tell right now. At times they have looked very good, but other times they have been on the other end of the spectrum. The offense was great to start the season, but has been trending downwards, while the slow-starting defense is now trending upwards. With the team going in opposite directions on each side of the ball, it's tough to make sense of this team.
HoS: What have been the biggest changes both on and off the field with the Mora regime?
RR: Off the field, there haven't been any major changes. There has been talk of changes, like building an actual football facility, but nothing has happened yet because the athletic department is still a mess.
On the field, the biggest changes have been in scheme. On both sides of the ball, the team has a completely different scheme, with the defense going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and the offense going into a pseudo-spread. Offensively there has also been a lot of turnover in personnel, with three freshmen starting on the offensive line and another freshman at quarterback.
HoS: How would you evaluate the play of quarterback Brett Hundley so far?
RR: Hundley has exceeded everyone's expectations so far. He's not perfect, needs to improve his accuracy on the deep ball and every once in a while reminds us that he is still a freshman, but he is much, much better than anyone could have expected out of any freshman quarterback.
His poise and leadership has been off the charts and he's made good decisions on when to throw the ball and when to tuck and run. His accuracy on the short and medium routes has been fine and he's done well to not lock onto receivers, instead going through his progressions.
Yeah, Hundley is a freshman and has his moments where he looks like one, but considering he's a freshman, he's been great. Hell, he's been better than almost every other UCLA quarterback over the last decade regardless of experience.
HoS: ASU fans should be familiar with the UCLA offense under Noel Mazzone. How well do you think the Bruins' personnel has taken to the new scheme?
RR: Early on, Mazzone looked like a genius. He had the offense purring and putting up monster numbers, but as teams have gotten a scouting report on it, it has slowed down. It is still moving the ball effectively, but not as well as it was in the early part of the season.
The biggest concern is the Bruins' production in the red zone. Even early in the season, UCLA struggled to turn trips to the red zone into touchdowns. That has to get better.
HoS: What should the Sun Devils expect to see defensively from the Bruins?
RR: The UCLA defense is very aggressive. They will bring blitzes, mainly from linebackers like Anthony Barr, but also from safeties and corners at times. The safeties have the freedom to fly around too and the team flows to the ball quickly. Of course, this is sometimes a problem because gap discipline can be a problem with aggressiveness so it isn't all good.
Arizona State can also expect to see some bad cornerbacks. Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price have been burned all season and for reasons unknown, the Bruins continue to put their best cornerback, Andrew Abbott, at safety despite having other capable safeties.
HoS: What's your prediction for Saturday's game?
RR: Oregon gave Kelly problems with their pressure and despite some shaky corners, I think the Bruins get enough pressure on Kelly to be effective defensively, albeit hardly dominant. Offensively, it would really be a struggle against a healthy Sun Devils defense, but Sutton's likely absence really changes things and allows UCLA to move the ball enough for a 34-31 win.
HoS: The way the schedule goes with ASU and USC to go, UCLA controls their destiny. What do you think are the chances of the Bruins' repeating as South champs?
RR: Right now, low. I think USC's lack of depth will hurt them later on in the season and give UCLA a chance to win against the Trojans, but I don't trust this team to show up each week and not lose before that.
Be sure to check out BruinsNation.com for more great UCLA content as game day draws near.