The UCLA Bruins will head to Tempe Saturday night to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in the first matchup between the two teams since the Sun Devils upset the then-No. 7 ranked Bruins in Pasadena last October.
While many picked Jim Mora’s program to compete with the USC Trojans for the Pac-12 South title this year, the Bruins have struggled out of the gate with losses in big games to the Texas A&M Aggies and the Stanford Cardinal. A victory over the Sun Devils in Tempe this weekend would be a tremendous boost to their conference title hopes, as they look to catch up to Colorado.
Here’s what you need to know about the Bruins:
Another Palomalu terrorizing the Pac-12 South
Thankfully for the Sun Devils, UCLA offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu is not related to Troy, the future Hall of Famer and former Pittsburgh Steelers safety. Unfortunately, however, he will keep the Sun Devils’ defense on its toes all game long Saturday night.
The former Trojan play-caller’s strength doesn’t rely on a dominant rushing or passing scheme, but rather a dangerous mixture of both.
Last week against Arizona, Polamalu spent the majority of the first half in shot-gun formation, dialing up passes curated for quarterback Josh Rosen’s strong and extremely accurate arm. When this scheme struggled as the Wildcats brought five and six on the blitz, he switched to a more pro-style look including simple screens and jet sweeps utilizing the Bruins’ skill players to catch Rich Rodriguez’s defensive unit off guard.
The adaptability Polamalu has engrained into his offense presents a new challenge for ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson’s unit.
Northern Arizona, Texas Tech, California, and to a certain extent USC with its two tight-end sets have exploited the Sun Devil’s secondary over and over, but have struggled to run the ball. The Bruins have not only proven their ability to execute in the running and passing game, but an elite intuition of how to vary their play-calling and keep defenses guessing for all four quarters.
Tempe proving popular vacation spot for elite QBs in 2016
At this point in the season, it seems futile to mention that the Sun Devils will be facing an elite quarterback in Tempe. However, after a freshman campaign consisting of a 60 percent completion rate, 3,668 yards and 23 touchdowns, Josh Rosen can’t be overlooked. The outspoken, eccentric, and often times controversial former 5-star recruit out of Manhattan Beach, Calif., is arguably the most exciting quarterback prospect in the collegiate game today.
After struggling against Texas A&M in the season opener (a performance which included throwing an interception seconds after taunting the Aggies ever-famous “12th-Man” crowd), the 6-foot-3 star has decimated opposing secondaries throwing for seven touchdowns, 1,172 yards and just one interception, all while maintaining 60 percent completion.
We’ve seen elite numbers, favorable scouting reports, and impressive highlights before. However, Josh Rosen has added a completely new dynamic to the quarterback position, one that we haven’t seen in the conference in a long time.
Trouble’s a Bruin
While the majority of student-athletes across the country are well-trained in public relations courses and have learned how to present themselves to the media (especially Division-I college football players with tremendous draft stock), Josh Rosen has seemingly defied every standard society has set for him.
The sophomore bordering on the brink of football superstardom constantly finds himself the subject of various controversial stories in the media, and just doesn’t seem to care. His long list of contentious decisions includes filling an inflatable hot tub with a beer funnel in his dorm room, insulting a presidential candidate in the form of a “F*** Trump” baseball cap during a golf game, and disparaging the NCAA for lucrative apparel deals that yield no financial benefits to its athletes.
More interesting than his controversies, however, has been his head coach Jim Mora’s advice to the 19-year old.
The fifth-year head coach has constantly defended his quarterback, stating that he will let Rosen “grow and discover” during his tenure in Los Angeles, as many college students do.
The behavior Rosen has displayed thus far in his collegiate career and Polamalu’s ability to manipulate an already-elite offensive unit surely have the potential to impact the game Saturday night, and should provide more fireworks in what will already be a game full of explosive offense.