For the better part of a month, Arizona State football has been idle in its activities, combating a COVID-19 outbreak within the locker room. The team has had ample time to study film on the UCLA Bruins during the lay off, specifically their dangerous run game.
Last season in the Sun Devils loss to UCLA, the Bruins ran all over Arizona State. Joshua Kelley carried most of the load that day, as UCLA rushed for 217 yards. Kelley accounted for 164 of those.
This season after Kelley’s departure to the NFL, Demetric Felton has took hold in the backfield. Felton has averaged nearly 135 yards on the ground in the the Bruins’ four games this season.
Defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce discussed how his unit can stifle this premier aspect of the Bruins’ game.
“He’s made up his mind that he wants to be an elite running back,” Pierce said of Felton. “He’s very fast, tough to tackle in space, really talented. They’ve done a great job with their offensive line, and they have been playing with a backup quarterback who’s been playing really well.”
Arizona State’s front seven will be tasked with putting a muzzle on the Bruin ground attack. Merlin Robertson will look to lead the group after his star performance against USC in the Sun Devils’ lone game this year.
Felton has been successful in getting to the second level of the defense on his runs, where come Saturday he will meet the talented Robertson, Kyle Soelle and Darien Butler.
Safety Evan Fields also had 17 tackles in last month’s opener, and should look to add to those stats against UCLA’s run first offense.
“I think the good part for us is we do have four games (of film) on them, and they’ve kind of established who they are, and that’s a run first team that wants to control the ball and play keep away,” Pierce said. “We know we had bright spots (against USC) but when you lose the negative plays, that kind of weighs on guys a little more. We did some good things up front on defense, it’s a process.
“I’ve been telling our guys it’s like training camp number three. Just hit the reset button. We’ve had a number of good practices recently with high energy and good leadership, that’s been great.”
You could make the case that a month long football drought would make the Sun Devils rusty, but the team is of the belief that their hiatus will make them fresh for Saturday’s contest.
There will certainly be no shortage of healthy bodies for Arizona State, which has enjoyed a relatively injury free, but still unhealthy fall considering its one game played.