Outside of Arizona, many fans of the Arizona State Sun Devils consider the UCLA Bruins to be the program’s biggest rivals. And, like in many cases, the hatred seems to stem from not the differences, but the similarities.
Both Jim Mora and Todd Graham were hired before the 2012 season, and these programs have followed very similar paths to this weekend.
The Sun Devils and Bruins are within a game of each other record-wise since those hirings, with UCLA having better record at 45-29. Both teams have been to one Pac-12 Championship Game, losing to Stanford, and both coaches began the season on the hot seat.
But while Graham’s seat has cooled, Mora’s seems to be as hot as ever, sitting under .500 despite having one of the best quarterbacks in college football.
Junior signal caller Josh Rosen brought high expectations for UCLA, but the program has underachieved in each of his three seasons in Westwood. Sitting at 4-5 after Rosen missed last week’s game with a concussion, the team must turn things around in hopes of avoiding failing to reach six wins in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1989 and 1990.
In their way, however, is a Sun Devil defense that Rosen has yet to solve.
Despite being one of the worst units in the nation each of the past couple years, ASU has gotten the better of Rosen and the Bruins, constantly hitting the tall righty, resulting in a season-ending shoulder injury a season ago.
Those hits didn’t keep him down, as Rosen put up 273 yards and two touchdowns, despite the injury a season ago and threw for 400 yards against the Sun Devils in 2015.
“In my opinion, just watching film, there’s not a better quarterback in the country,” Graham said. “He’s as good an intermediate passer as I’ve seen in quite a few years.”
Despite injuries across the offensive skill positions, Rosen has played well when given time this season, completing 63 percent of his passes for 2,713 yards and 20 touchdowns.
However, there’s no guarantee Rosen plays. Despite his insistence Wednesday, Mora said Rosen has still not cleared concussion protocol. If he were to sit, redshirt freshman Devon Modster would likely get his second consecutive start.
In last week’s loss to Utah, he completed eight of 12 passes for 103 yards in a run-heavy offensive attack.
If Rosen is out, ASU should expect a heavy dosage of junior running backs Bo Olorunfunmi and/or Soso Jamabo. The two have split carries nearly evenly this year, but Olorunfunmi got the most run a week ago, toting the ball 16 times for 63 yards.
As UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch explained to the Los Angeles Times, that was the result of what went on Monday through Friday.
"We're going with who's practicing the hardest each week and who's practicing the best and who's most productive," Fisch said Tuesday.
So it’s undetermined who exactly will start at quarterback and which running back will get the majority of the carries, but that doesn’t mean anything to Graham. He’s been on this ride too many times before.
“It doesn’t matter what we did last year, the last two times we’ve been there, none of that stuff matters,” Graham said. “You gotta go and get it done against them, and to do that, we’ve got to play our best game.”