UCLA (5-2, 2-2) at Arizona State (5-2, 3-1)
Kickoff: 12:00 p.m. PST / 3:00 p.m. EST
Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Point Spread: ASU by 6.5
TV / Radio: FX / 620 AM
Weather Forecast: Mid 80s, clear, light winds
ASU Uniforms: Black helmets/black jerseys/gold pants (Go Steelers?)
Series History: The Bruins currently hold a 17-10-1 series edge on this long-standing series that dates back to 1976. As many ASU fans know, last year's 29-28 loss in Westwood helped send the Sun Devils into a spiral they never recovered from and helped propel the Bruins to the South title.
UCLA Last Week: The Bruins were last in action on October 13th when the beat Utah. The UCLA defense held the Utes in check while the dynamic duo of Johnathan Franklin and Brett Hundley combined for 147 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while Hundley tossed a 64-yard touchdown to Shaq Evans in the 21-14 win.
ASU on Offense: For the first time all season, Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly had a bad game. A really bad game. Kelly struggled mightily against the Ducks' pressure, rushed his reads and made several costly mistakes. That being said, Kelly has been impressive all season with his resiliency and poise, and he'll need to show both qualities in order to have the return to form that ASU will need from him.
He'll once again face a 3-4 defense that loves to bring heavy pressure. The Bruins rank seventh in the nation in sacks and 20th in tackles-for-loss and have the ability in the front seven to make it a difficult day for the Sun Devil offense.
The battle up front will be telling. ASU likely will be without captain and starting right guard Andrew Sampson, with the talented but inexperienced Vi Teofilo taking his place. The starting line for UCLA is stout, with 323-pound tackle Seali'i Epenesa flanked by 280-pound Datone Jones and 295-pound Cassius Marsh at end. Jones in particular has been very productive with 11 tackles-for-loss and four sacks, and Marsh has added 4.5 tackles-for-loss.
Like all 3-4 defenses, the brunt of the pressure will come from the linebackers. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr already has 7.5 sacks, and left tackle Evan Finkenberg will be counted on to shut him down off the edge. ASU will continue to use their set of running backs—D.J. Foster, Marion Grice and Cameron Marshall—as the offense's focal point, both on the ground and in the passing game. Middle linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt are both extremely athletic and cover a lot of ground, and will be the key weapons to counter ASU's playmakers out of the backfield.
Should the Sun Devils be able to give Kelly some time, he should be able to make some plays through the air. UCLA's cornerbacks have had their struggles this year, and ASU's speedy threats like Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross could have big days. 3-Back Chris Coyle should have some success along the seams and underneath against 5-foot-8 strong safety Andrew Abbott.
- TE Chris Coyle vs. SS Andrew Abbott: Abbott is a converted cornerback with good coverage skills, and his move to strong safety has him playing out of position due to team need. This could be to ASU's advantage, as the 6-foot-3 Coyle should be continue his strong season thanks to his skills and a seven-inch advantage over Abbott.
- LT Evan Finkenberg vs. ROLB Anthony Bar: We saw last week what can happen when Taylor Kelly is pressured, and Barr, in his first season on defense, is capable of making Kelly miserable. He has great explosiveness from his spot on the edge, and Finkenberg will need to contain Barr and keep Kelly upright.
- RG Vi Teofilo vs. DE Datone Jones: Like many 3-4 defensive ends, Jones is bulky at 275 pounds. Unlike many ends, he also has the quickness to shoot gaps and make plays. He'll line up against Teofilo, who will likely be making his first start as a Sun Devil with a heavy burden on his shoulders.
- RB D.J. Foster vs. ILB Eric Kendricks: Whether it's on the ground or through the air, no Sun Devil has been a better player on offense so far than Foster. His blend of speed, explosiveness and versatility have allowed him to quickly become the team's No. 1 weapon. Kendricks leads UCLA with 57 tackles, in large part due to his athleticism and range, which should make for an intriguing battle against Foster.
ASU on Defense: Just because there's familiarity with UCLA's scheme doesn't mean it will be any easier to stop, especially if ASU's all-everything defensive tackle Will Sutton does in fact miss the game.
The Bruins attack is masterminded by offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who held the same post at ASU over the previous two seasons. The same spread offense that features plenty of swing passes and quick passes is still there, but there are a few wrinkles.
One of the biggest is at quarterback, where former Chandler High star Brett Hundley has emerged as a star. The redshirt freshman has been dynamic both with his passing and his running, accounting for 19 total touchdowns. He has impressed with his poise and command, yet he is prone for mistakes that all players his age make. ASU will need to attack and hit Hundley early and often to throw him off his game and generate turnovers. They will also need to keep contain on Hundley, unlike last week against Oregon.
As good as Hundley has been, running back Johnathan Franklin has been better. The senior already has 878 yards, and has taken a place among the best backs in the nation. Franklin can bang it inside or pop it out to the edge for big gains, so ASU's linebackers led by Brandon Magee will need to be aggressive yet disciplined. The Bruins have a speedy duo of change-of-pace backs in Damien Thigpen and Jordon James that they use in both the ground and passing games.
The Bruins have a few targets that can cause some problems. Junior wide receiver Shaq Evans is the team's go to threat from the Z position. Evans has good speed, runs crisp routes and has reliable hands. Steven Manfro has the Jamal Miles role this year, and is quick from the slot. Perhaps the biggest match-up problem is at tight end, a position long ignored by Mazzone at ASU. Joseph Fauria is a talented 6-foot-7 target who leads the team with five touchdown catches.
The key factor when UCLA has the ball is the same as when ASU has it: protecting from an attacking defense. The Bruins start three freshman and one sophomore along the offensive line, and as a result, they rank up among the worst in a few key categories. UCLA is currently 105th in sacks allowed and 113th in surrendering tackles-for-loss. Even without the services of Sutton, ASU should be able to make some plays in the UCLA backfield, especially from the outside by Carl Bradford and Junior Onyeali.
- SPUR Chris Young vs. QB Brett Hundley: Hundley has been excellent this season in making plays through the air, and he adds the lethal element of being able to pick up yards or extend plays with his legs. Young has the best range and closing speed of any Sun Devil defender, and the two should clash helmets on several occasions in the game.
- LB Brandon Magee vs. RB Johnathan Franklin: UCLA will be running the ball a lot on Saturday, and Franklin—the nations' ninth-leading rusher—will be seeing a lot of work. Magee is ASU's defensive leader, and he'll be one of the players the team needs to step up most in the absence of Sutton.
- S Keelan Johnson vs. TE Joseph Fauria: Fauria doesn't catch many passes (he's only had more than three catches once), but he makes them count, with a team-high five touchdowns. He presents a huge match-up problem at 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds. Johnson has been solid this year in pass defense, but will have his hands full against Fauria.
- DT Jaxon Hood vs. Pressure: Should Sutton miss the game, a lot of the pressure to help fill the void in the middle will fall to Hood, the impressive true freshman. He knows the Bruins will want to run the ball right at him, and his ability to help stuff it will go a long way towards determining Saturday's winner.
Special Teams: Another week, another change at kicker for ASU. The Alex Garoutte-to-Jon Mora-to-Garoutte carousel is now back to Mora. In either case, the Sun Devil field goal kicking situation is perilous at best. Last year, ASU missed three field goals in their one-point loss last year, and with this uncertainty, they best hope a repeat is not on the horizon.
Punter Josh Hubner continues to be the consistent bright spot for ASU's special teams with his strong and accurate kicks, and last week he was named College Football Performance Awards Bowl Subdivision National Punter of the Week.
Rashad Ross remains the team's kickoff option, and Jamal Miles and Rick Smith each had unremarkable punt returns last week.
Damien Thigpen has been a good kickoff returner for the Bruins, ranking 30th in the nation with a 25.8 yard average. The quick Steven Manfro is the team's punt returner, and has a 9.9 yards average.
Like ASU, the Bruins have had difficulty at kicker. Ka'imi Fairbairn has only made nine of his 14 field goals, including a dreadful four-of-nine from beyond 30 yards. Things are better at punter with senior Jeff Locke, who has pinned 21 of his 40 kicks inside the 20.
ASU's To Do List:
- Limit the UCLA ground game
- Keep Hundley in the pocket
- Hold back the Bruin defensive pressure
- Strike downfield in the passing game and get Kelly on a roll
- Get an early lead and hold it
What It All Means: This is going to be a hard fought, closely contested game, much like last year's battle. While each team should be able to score some points, the relentless attacking by each defense should be in line for some turnovers. This will be a be a major test to see how ASU responds after such a embarrassing setback. If they can come out strong and get Taylor Kelly in a rhythm and keep him protected, the Sun Devil defense should be able to hold a lead for a big South division victory...provided it doesn't come down to a field goal.
Prediction: ASU wins 34-28