ASU vs. UCLA: Haber's Hunches

Ralph Freso

Taylor Kelly or Brett Hundley? Can the ASU offensive line limit Anthony Barr? What's flying under the radar about the ASU-UCLA game?

Arizona State's main rival will always be the University of Arizona, but the yearly game against UCLA probably means more. 2013 provides additional proof. The Sun Devils can clinch the Pac-12 South crown by defeating the Bruins at the Rose Bowl Stadium.

In the past two seasons, UCLA got the best of ASU. Both battles were for conference championship berths. Will the third time be a charm?

Despite the Sun Devils ranking 17th in the BCS, three spots lower than UCLA at 14th, Todd Graham and company are favored by -2.5 points on the road. The rise of the ASU football program is starting to get recognition outside of Tempe. To be respected, you need to earn it.

Before the season began, I said the Sun Devils should possess a Pac-12 South championship or bust mentality. 9-3 and possibly 10-3 (assuming ASU losses to UCLA) after the bowl game would be great on paper. In actuality, it would be disappointing and incomplete. The talent on the current ASU roster should be good enough to trump UCLA, therefore why is anything less acceptable?

I know another 1-2 record for the famous Haber's Hunches won't be tolerated. I head to my home in Los Angeles at 17-12 overall.

First hunch: Taylor Kelly outperforms Brett Hundley

ASU and UCLA should both put up a plethora of points. The Sun Devils average 42.3 points per game and the Bruins average 37.0 points per game. If it looks like a shootout, smells like a shootout and sounds like a shootout, it's a shootout. That's not how the saying goes, but you get the point.

I believe the head-to-head matchup between Kelly and Hundley will be the deciding factor. Hundley may be the better pro prospect because of his size and arm strength, but at the college level, the two go stride-for-stride. No one likes to get overlooked. Kelly would say it doesn't bother him, but I call shenanigans. Kelly is determined to lead ASU to division supremacy, and it's hard to see him coming up short.

Predicting Kelly to outperform Hundley is odd timing. As of late, Kelly seems to be regressing while Hundley continues to evolve and pick up steam. Kelly and the ASU offense are too lethal to disappoint three weeks straight, so I see them bouncing back in huge fashion.

I think Hundley is overrated and most would disagree. Hundley has tossed only one game of more than 300-plus passing yards, yet Kelly has done so five times. Although it should be noted, Kelly hasn't tallied 300-plus passing yards since the Notre Dame game on Oct. 5.

The Washington Huskies put up 31 points at UCLA last week, actually 38 if you factor in the blown call. That Huskies attack isn't nearly as good as the ASU attack. Another advantage for Kelly comes on the defensive side of the ball. The Sun Devils' defensive unit is trending upward. The Bruins defensive unit is trending downward. Kelly is soft spoken, but expect him to make a loud statement against UCLA.

Second hunch: Anthony Barr won't live up to the hype, posts at most one sack

Anthony Barr would be the main reason my Kelly hunch doesn't materialize. The ASU offensive line goes through way too many mental lapses. Those can get masked against Washington State, Utah and Oregon State, but not against Barr. If you don't know about Barr, you must be living under a rock.

NFL draft experts predict him to be one of the top five picks in the draft. Barr can run faster than most 6-foot-4, 248-pound men. In addition, he features enough strength to bull rush over blockers and plenty of crafty moves to get by them. No single lineman can slow Barr down, it needs to be a collective effort.

In spite of Barr likely earning All-American honors, the Sun Devils are going to slow him down more than unusual. ASU doesn't chip players often or provide double teams. That trend must go out the window against Barr. ASU offensive line coach, Chris Thomsen, will force other UCLA defenders to beat him. Barr is the sole potent pass rusher UCLA brings to the table, so keying in on him will be obvious.

Barr moves around from side-to-side routinely, yet it would be wise for UCLA to line him up predominately on the right. Right tackle Tyler Sulka has arguably been the worst protector on ASU. On the other hand, left tackle Evan Finkenberg wouldn't stop Barr either, yet he could limit him.

University of Arizona kept Barr off the stat sheet. I won't say ASU repeats that. At the same time, the Sun Devils will show Barr can be limited in the right setting.

Final hunch: UCLA hurts themselves with at least 40 more penalty yards than ASU

The ASU and UCLA offense have been compared. The ASU and UCLA defense have been compared. The ASU and UCLA special teams have been compared. What's left? The intangibles.

Some believe the Bruins own the intangibles because of their recent success over the Sun Devils. I completely disagree. Instead of reflecting on the past, which is irrelevant now, let's stay in the present. Penalties and discipline should be the topic of conversation.

Graham preaches no penalties and discipline above all. The results are indicative. ASU surrenders 30 yards per game due to yellow hankies, which is the least in the Pac-12. UCLA can't relate, as the Bruins' 79 yards per game of self-inflicted wounds ranks 11th in the Pac-12.

The margin of error between the Sun Devils and Bruins will be miniscule. After the final whistle blows, the difference in penalties could be the deciding factor. ASU has the clear advantage in the category and it will be very significant.

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