The biggest game of the season. That's what everyone was calling this game a two weeks ago. But now, with the Sun Devils minus Taylor Kelly and UCLA miraculously 3-0 despite not playing one quality game, some of the hype has worn off.
So how does Arizona State find the will to win? Here are the keys to a Sun Devil victory.
1. Establish the run: D.J. Foster has been Heisman worthy through three games, but he'll need to do more damage as a traditional running back in this one. So far Foster has taken great advantage of holes opened up in the read-option game by Kelly, and as a receiver in the screen game. While the Sun Devils can still rely on screens, they'll also need to rely on more traditional running plays. The key could be getting the stretch and sweep game going, moving the defense side-to-side and allowing Foster to pick a gap and explode up field. With Mike Bercovici making his debut as the starter under center, a strong running game will help take the pressure off the redshirt junior.
2. Get Bercovici comfortable: It's likely that at some point, Bercovici is going to have to make multiple plays with his arm. UCLA has not been sharp defensively so far. Actually, they just haven't been sharp at all. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell should look to get Bercovici in a rhythm early, calling short passes and screens until he gets comfortable, before opening up the vertical passing game.
3. Will the real Jaxon Hood please standup? Hood has been a ghost through three games. He has yet to make a single impact play and, quite frankly, looks much like Sutton did at this time last year: slow. But Hood could change this game if he can find a spark. Getting pressure on Hundley quickly up the middle is key to stopping the Bruins. UCLA's skill positions lack game breaking talent, so flushing Hundley and then spying him with a linebacker would dramatically slow the Bruins offense. Hood holds all of the power here. A big game would be huge for everyone.
4. Secure the football: Needless to say, when you're starting a new quarterback, one not exactly equipped to run your entire offense - no matter how many times Norvell and Todd Graham try to convince you Bercovici can run, he can't - you better protect the football. Long, sustaining drives and points early and often will help. So will not giving the Bruins any extra possessions. The last thing you want to do if you're Arizona State is play from behind.
5. Win special teams: Need we remind everyone what happened the last time UCLA showed up in Tempe? The Sun Devils couldn't stop the Bruins on returns, couldn't get a positive return themselves and watched a freshman kicker nail a field goal at the end of the game following a stunning UCLA drive. Those things can't happen on Thursday. The coverage units finally looked stable against Colorado. The question is, was that an anomaly or did the team finally figure it out? We'll know rather quickly in this one.