Thursday night's matchup between No. 15 Arizona State and No. 11 UCLA and will be aired on FOX Sports 1. The game will also stream on Fox Sports GO. Tim Brando will be alongside analyst Joel Klatt in the booth with Jenny Taft roaming the sidelines.
We had the chance to speak with both Klatt and Taft to break down the game as well as how they prepare and what it means to them to be on the call.
Klatt was the starting quarterback for the Colorado Buffaloes from 2003-2005, setting numerous school records at the position. Taft played lacrosse and graduated from Boston University. She has been a Fox Sports Girl and done sideline reporting for Minnesota Lynx games.
Without further delay, here are our conversations with Klatt and Taft.
HoS: What advice would you give Mike Bercovici, having been a former quarterback yourself?
That's a good question. I think that simplicity is always the way to go especially when you're doing something for the first time which he's doing tonight as a starter. Anytime as a quarterback kind of chased ghosts or tried to control things that were out of my control, I would play out of myself. My heartrate would go higher and the adrenaline would take over and I wasn't as effective. If I could just calm myself down and focus on the things that I needed to focus on, taking what the defense gives, playing within myself, and playing within the offense, that's when he'll find the most success. That's true if it's your first start or your 50th start, so that would be my advice.
HoS: What are your main keys for ASU winning this game?
First and foremost taking care of the football is so important, especially with a guy that's unproven at quarterback. He's got to make quality decisions to make sure he's taking care of the ball. Secondly I think they've got to win on first down. Everyone focuses on third down but in my mind with inexperience at the quarterback position, if you're in third and long you've already lost. So first down, especially with guys like D.J. Foster averaging 10 yards a carry on first down and guys like Jaelen Strong, they should be able to give Mike Bercovici more manageable third down situations that are more up his alley, rather than sitting there in third and long and seeing those exotic pressures. He's not use to those, and doesn't have the experience to have seen those in a game before.
HoS: What do you make of the slow start for UCLA, are they just getting their feet under them or is this the real UCLA team we've seen so far?
I think that's a great question. I think tonight they're obviously going to answer a lot of those questions because I think Arizona State is the best team UCLA will have faced so far. And it is interesting that there are teams out there in the country who have played maybe below expectations. The fact of the matter is that most of us have seen nearly every snap that UCLA has played this year, so they're under the microscope more than most teams are. They have played no doubt below expectations. What is important for them is that they don't believe that to be the case. They're just trying to get better everyday and control their own destiny. If they continue to win games, it doesn't really matter the style in which they win them, because at the end the track record and resume would speak for themselves
Make no bones about it, this game has added significance after what ASU did last year. Jim Mora said it, there is more of a sense of urgency around that building. I truly believe because of that, you're going to see the best possible version of UCLA tonight.
HoS: Take us step by step through your preparations for this game. How much research have you been doing and what have you been doing the past few days in Tempe?
It starts when you build the lineup boards, then it's constanltly reading articles, watching all the games that have been played. I've watched every game that both teams have played including a lot of games last year including their game against each other last year. I also watched their game against each other from two years ago. Then I talk with a lot of people around the program on each side and in the program just trying to get as much information as I possibly can. Then you have this mountain of information and you just disseminate it, I go through it like a college student would study for a final. You put it down on your board so what you have in front of you at the beginning of the game is exactly what you want to communicate.
Then again, I think it's really important once the game starts to let the game stand on its own. If I don't use 90-95 percent of the information from the 25-30 hours of prep work that I've done? Then that is a good game. It's a lot like playing quarterback to be honest with you. You prepare as much as you possibly can, you fill yourself to capacity, and then at the end of the day you let the game come to you. You use what you can but other than that, keeping it simple is usually the way to go.
HoS: In the short history of FOX Sports 1, this is probably one of the biggest college football games to ever air on the network, what does it mean to you personally to be on this call?
I've been very fortunate, three of our bigger football games on Fox Sports 1 I've been able to be in the booth for. I was in the booth for Oklahoma at Baylor a year ago in a large Thursday night game. I was able to call the Oregon-Oregon State game a year ago and now this one. It has been a tremendous opportunity just to be involved with FS1, and it has also been amazing to get some of these opportunities to put our best foot forward in terms of what we're presenting on a grand stage. It's the biggest game of the week in my estimation this week and it just means a lot to me. I love what I do, it's just this type of week that is icing on the cake.
HoS: Final question, how do you see this game playing out?
I do see it playing out as somewhat of a sloppy game early with a lot of energy. First of all there is going to be a lot of emotion, a lot of nerves. You've got a quarterback situation on both sides. One, you've got a kid getting his first start and it's not just a kid getting his first start, it's Mike Bercovici. Remember Todd Graham and Mike Norvell have never coached a game at Arizona State without Taylor Kelly as their quarterback. It's new for them as well, this is a lot of uncharted territory for a lot of people on that sideline.
Then you go to the other sidelines and you've got the Brett Hundley injury. Is he going to play? Is he not going to play? It still remains to be seen. Then you still have to see if he's effective when he's on the field so Jerry Neuheisel still has to be ready to go.
We could see some sloppy play early because of all of those factors. The first team that can settle in and start executing the details of their gameplan is going to have a huge leg up. Todd Graham is 19-0 when he leads at half and ASU has historically, especially this year, started fast. 53-7 they've outscored opponents in the first quarter. If they can settle in quickly, get Mike Bercovici some early completions, I think they've got a great chance in this football game.
But I will say this, the matchup I'm looking forward to the most is watching Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack chase around D.J. Foster. Just as a fan, I can't wait to see it.
HoS: First off, take us through what it is like to be a sideline reporter.
JT: This is actually only my second college football game. It is still one of those things I am learning and improving on each week. It's kind of funny, I have covered every sport for FOX except this one so I was pretty excited when they asked me about it. What FS1 wants me to do is be the eyes and ears on the sideline. I love it because I am in the action. I get to watch the players warm up and listen to what the trainers and coaches are saying. I grew up playing sports my whole life, so I like being a sideline reporter because it brings me closer to the field. Another thing I like is that my job seems to be all about gameday. Tim (Brando), Joel (Klatt), and I meet with the coaches and coordinators each week, and while those fluff stories are always nice, the biggest story is what is happening during the game. That is my area.
HoS: How have you been preparing for this week's game?
JT: Reading as much and watching as much video as I can. I watched both teams play the last couple weeks. That is a great way to get a feel of what I can expect from key players. We all know what this game means. The winner of this game has gone on to win the Pac-12 south the past couple years. I talked to both coaches and they are extremely confident. Neither are concerned about the quarterback situation. Todd Graham has been preparing for Brett Hundley and Jim Mora knows (Mike) Bercovici can compete. They do not sound cocky, just prepared.
HoS: Please share your thoughts on Arizona State's fan base and the students who have been camping out since Sunday.
JT: It is pretty unbelievable, right? I used to come here with my grandpa when I was younger. He is a huge football guy and brought me to Arizona State growing up, so I have seen the fans and the passion they have. What college football is all about is the fan base and camaraderie. I can already feel the excitement around Tempe. The restaurants and local establishments are getting ready and just the fact that the fans are camping out adds to the excitement. That is what's so special. The blackout is going to be crazy, too. I can't wait to see what that looks like.
HoS: Can we get a prediction from you?
JT: It is so hard to say. I have been thinking about this a lot. I think that UCLA's offense is going to give Arizona State's young defense a lot of trouble. If the defense doesn't come prepared, or Bercovici is off, it is going to be a long night. On the other hand with UCLA, how well Hundley is able to play with the pain in his shoulder is going to be very important. If he has time in space and the Sun Devil defense is not able to get pressure, I think UCLA comes away on top. With that being said, the Arizona State offense is really strong. They know the stakes. A win gives them the credibility that they need and playing at home provides a big edge. I really don't know.