Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE
We break down the five keys to a Sun Devil victory over the UCLA Bruins on Saturday's huge Pac-12 South battle
Earlier today, we gave you an in-depth preview of Saturday's huge Pac-12 South division match-up between Arizona State and UCLA.
Now, we break it down to our five biggest keys for a Sun Devil win on Homecoming.
Stop the Run
While UCLA is not the rushing powerhouse of Oregon, who put up 406 yards on ASU last week, they are still a potent ground team. With Johnathan Franklin leading the way with 878 yards and the mobility of quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins can present many of the same challenges to the Sun Devil defense that the Ducks were able to do.
Should Sun Devil defensive tackle Will Sutton miss the game, an already vulnerable ASU run defense will be even more inviting to the Bruins. Players like Jaxon Hood and Davon Coleman will be counted on to step up along the defensive line, and the ASU linebacking corps will be essential in closing down the run and forcing the game onto Hundley's passing.
Get Kelly on a Roll
10 of 18 for 93 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Not exactly the stat line one would expect from what was the nation's third-most efficient quarterback, yet ASU's Taylor Kelly did just that in the face of Oregon's heavy pressure.
He'll get no relief on Saturday against the Bruins, whose 3-4 scheme also brings a lot of pressure at the quarterback. UCLA averages 3.3 sacks-per-game, the seventh highest total in the country, while ASU ranks a dreadful 96th in sacks allowed.
It will be critical for the Sun Devil offensive line—likely playing without right guard Andrew Sampson—to keep Kelly upright and out of the face of the UCLA pressure. For the ASU offense to function effectively on Saturday, Kelly will need to start fast and get into a rhythm early. The Bruin secondary can be exploited, but only if Kelly has enough time.
Attack the Line
As good as UCLA has been in making plays in the opponent's backfield, they have been as bad in keeping defense's out of their own.
Behind a line that features three freshman and a sophomore, the Bruins rank 105th in sacks allowed and 113th in tackles-for-loss given up. That's a recipe for some difficulty against ASU, who leads the nation in tackles-for-loss and is second in sacks. Even without Will Sutton, the Sun Devils still have playmakers like Junior Onyeali, Carl Bradford, Chris Young and Brandon Magee to wreck havoc.
Get a Cushion
Let's be honest. The Sun Devil kicking game is a mess. For the fourth straight week, ASU will have a different starting kicker for field goals, with Jon Mora taking over for Alex Garoutte for a second time.
As any Sun Devil fan remembers, Garoutte missed all three of his attempts in the 29-28 loss to UCLA last year, and the prognosis for Saturday, whether it's Mora or Garoutte, is just as murky.
The Sun Devils need to finish their drives with touchdowns to put some distance between the Bruins...and also to avoid placing themselves in a position where they need a late field goal.
Life Goes On
Last week was a disaster. But it was last week.
In previous seasons, the Sun Devils were mentally weak, and were easily sent into a downward spiral by the any sign of difficulty...like last season's loss to UCLA and the four that followed.
The first quarter of Saturday's game will be very telling as to how far the "Speaking Victory" mentality has really come. Will there be a hangover effect in play, putting the Devils in an early hole? Or can ASU storm out and hold serve at home?