Here is the conversation between House of Sparky managing editor Brady Vernon and Bruin Nation staff writer Dimitri Dorlis.
BV: When Herm Edwards and Chip Kelly were hired last year before the season, the reactions were vastly different. Now, most people have different opinions than their original ones. Are you shocked at how things have played out the past year and a half for each school?
DD: On the one hand, my opinion of Herm Edwards hasn’t really changed. I thought he’d bring an NFL-level competence to ASU, keeping them in games but never exactly reaching that next level, and so far that’s been the case. Fact is he’s really only maintained the program level that Todd Graham had at ASU, with better recruiting, but nothing has happened to change my opinion here.
On the flip side, the Chip Kelly hire has been a lesson in extreme arrogance. Let’s start with one statement: Chip Kelly is an extremely smart guy. But like a lot of smart guys, he has specific opinions on how to be successful, and is susceptible to self-destruction should his course of action prove to be a wrong one, and boy has UCLA’s trajectory so far been the wrong one. Kelly has a clear disdain for recruiting, an offensive system that is needlessly complicated at the college level, and a defense that seems more interested in keeping his buddies employed rather than be effective. UCLA fans knew that there were problems in the program that required a split from Jim Mora, but Kelly’s tear-down job has been unnecessary; worse, he hasn’t shown an understanding of how to rebuild the program he tore down.
BV: What was the biggest difference in the Bruins’ play against Stanford compared to the rest of the season?
DD: UCLA’s changes are mostly vestigial compared to the fact that Stanford was using a 3rd string QB who does not belong on the field right now, and 3 true freshman on the offensive line. Really, those were two toxic combinations that allowed UCLA’s defensive line (the “strength” of the defense) to get into the backfield and rack up 7 sacks; prior to the game, the defense had 9 sacks all season. The offense has been steadily improving throughout the year and has been susceptible to outbursts of excellent play, so all they really had to do was continue that improvement to secure the victory.
BV: Arizona State struggled to keep a clean pocket for Jayden Daniels in Utah. Is there any pass rushers that Sun Devil fans should worry about?
DD: It’s not so much a single pass rusher but the entire defensive line. They’re a young group, but have been the definite strength of the defense, holding up extremely well against the run while developing the ability to get after the passer. Last week’s game was important if only for showing that they can be a force if they set their minds to it. As for individual names, Osa Odighizuwa has been a force in recent weeks, and Odua Isibor had a breakout game against the Cardinal, so look for them to continue that momentum.
BV: Between Joshua Kelley and Demetric Felton, who do you think will be a bigger threat to Arizona State’s defense? Is there another UCLA offensive player that can cause damage on Saturday?
DD: I would compare Kelley and Felton to the mid-2000s Chargers, when they were using the ridiculous running back tandem of LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Kelley would be LT in this scenario, the every down back who can bruise you up the middle but has the speed and quickness to make you pay as soon as you make a mistake. Felton is more of a Sproles, a scat-back type who is always a threat to unleash a big play either running the ball or (more likely) catching it out of the backfield. Of the two, Kelley is finally looking completely healthy after suffering a knee injury at the start of fall camp, while Stanford schemed in particular to focus on Felton. It’s a bit of a Catch 22, though, as scheming against one back leaves you vulnerable to the other.
As for other weapons, Kyle Phillips has turned into Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s favorite target, and put on a show against Stanford, going for 100 yards on 10 catches with 2 touchdowns. And, speaking of, DTR has really come into his own in the last few games, showing more decisiveness and better decision-making, and has looked more comfortable with tucking the ball and running. He can absolutely take advantage of a defense if allowed.
BV: Score prediction and why?
DD: I don’t know why, but I definitely feel more confident about UCLA going into this game. I really shouldn’t be - they’ve only looked like a good football team for 1.5 games total, and have yet to win at home. But something in my heart tells me this is another game where UCLA can pull off the upset, especially if ASU is in a post-Utah wounded state. Plus, what fun would it be if I didn’t answer your questions and egg on the readers by showing blatant homerism. So let’s say UCLA wins 27-24 on a last-second field goal.
Or, for a more realistic prediction, ASU wins 38-24 as they prove the Stanford game was just a conflux of factors rather than noticeable improvement. There, covered all of my bases.