Ask any Sun Devil fan who they believe their rival is and they will all answer the same. The Arizona Wildcats. With good reason, as the battle for the Territorial Cup has waged for over a century. However, recently a new rivalry involving the Sun Devils has begun. A rivalry with the UCLA Bruins.
"I think this game is one of the marquee games each year," said head coach Todd Graham at his weekly press conference. "When we look at our schedule, it is one of the games we put a star by."
The winner of this matchup has gone on to win the Pac-12 South the past two seasons, with the visitor winning the last two meetings. The rivalry also continues off the field, where the two programs battle for some of the top prospects in the West.
"So many of our players come from Southern California," said Graham. "Obviously they are one of our big competitors in recruiting."
Recently, UCLA has gone into Arizona and pulled commitments from Brett Hundley, Paul Perkins, Priest Willis, Jalen Ortiz, and Kenny Lacy. Current Sun Devil starters Mike Bercovici, Jamil Douglas, Tashon Smallwood, Salamo Fiso and Tyler Sulka all hail from Southern California.
"You don't have to give any motivational speeches for this game, you don't have to worry if the kids are flat," said Graham. "They will be fired up and ready to go."
One of the chief tasks of the Arizona State defense will be to try to slow down UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Graham reiterated Monday afternoon that the Sun Devils are expecting Hundley to play, after he suffered a hyperextension of his non-throwing elbow against Texas on Sept. 13.
In 2012, Hunley led UCLA to a 45-43 victory over the Sun Devils, throwing for 274 yards and four touchdowns. Last season, in a loss to the Sun Devils, Hundley threw for 253 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
"He is very, very difficult to sack. He's just a hard person to bring down, he makes you tackle him," said Graham. "He gets the ball out really quickly in their regular passing game. He's the most dangerous when he is extending plays."
Hundley has been sacked 10 times already this season. Since he took over as a starter in 2012, he has been sacked an NCAA-high 92 times.
"You have to make sure you don't let him run free down the field because he will throw it 70 yards down the field," said Graham. "He's very, very explosive. So we have to do a good job cutting off vertical lines and keeping him corralled in the pocket."
Graham not worried about Bercovici
The one quarterback on his roster that Graham is not worried about is Mike Bercovici. The redshirt junior has received all the first team reps in practice, as he fills in for an injured Taylor Kelly.
"I think he is confident," said Graham about Bercovici. "His big thing is just to take what they give you, use the athletes you have around you and run the system. And we have had to adapt the system to him. There are some things that he brings to the table that I am excited to see."
Graham said he has not had any conversations with Deputy Head Coach Mike Norvell about Bercovici, which he says he rare in these circumstances. However, Graham wants to make sure Arizona State's backup option is ready
"The only thing I have said to coach Novell is to make sure Manny (Wilkins) is ready," said Graham. "Obviously he's the backup quarterback this week."
- Todd Graham stated that Antonio Longino and De'Marieya Nelson will split reps at Devil this week and Nelson wlll see more reps against UCLA than he has in the first three games.
- Graham also believes that Arizona State is better in the secondary this year than they were last year, stating upgrades at SPUR linebacker, field corner and field safety.
- More than 20 NFL scouts will be in attendance Thursday night. A typical Arizona State home game draws around 5-10.