UCLA (3-1) began its season with an eyebrow-raising victory 44-10 victory over Hawaii and then backed it up with the signature win of the Chip Kelly era in a 38-27 win over LSU in Week 2. The team took a step back against a competitive Fresno State team, but righted the ship last week on the road against a Stanford team which has been hard to figure out.
All told, the Bruins sit second in the Pac-12, right behind Arizona State. The game many expected before the season would be a tough test for the Sun Devils maybe has turned to the deciding game for the South division of the conference.
For Arizona State, their opponent this week will feature some familiar foes, but added weaponry has made the Bruins ever the more dangerous in 2021.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (Sr.)
Why not start with the quarterback that has become one of the most dynamic players in the conference? Through the first three years, the man known as DTR showed flashes of the enormous potential he possessed after a superb career at perennially dominant Bishop Gorman High School. Year four is the year it has all come together.
Through the first four weeks of the season, Thomson-Robinson has passed for 919 yards on 89 attempts with nine touchdowns. Most impressively, the electric quarterback has taken care of the football, throwing only one interception in the game against LSU.
Last season he averaged 5.6 yards rushing per game. Those numbers are down this season, but he remains a first class dual-threat quarterback when healthy. That’s the caveat this week, Thompson-Robinson suffered a hamstring injury last week against Stanford, and his rushing abilities may be limited Saturday night.
UCLA fans will argue he is better than Jayden Daniels, ASU fans will scoff at that notion. The point is, both quarterbacks are talented enough to win football games on their own terms.
Running Back Zach Charbonnet (Jr.)
Charbonnet is in his first season close to home after spending his first two seasons in the Michigan backfield.
A superstar running back in high school from Camarillo, Calif., he has been unleashed after being largely limited due to a conservative Michigan rushing attack which had the dangerous runner on the outside primarily rushing between the tackles.
It’s clear this offensive system suits Charbonnet better. He has been a revelation for the Bruins rushing attack, and has moved into the top running back spot. So far in 2021, he has rushed for 360 yards on 46 attempts (7.8 YPC) and seven touchdowns.
Brittain Brown, the redshirt senior who tore up the Sun Devils in Tempe last year by averaging over 13 yards a pop is back, and producing as well. Slowing him down will be a tough enough pill to swallow. Throwing in Charbonnet is like chasing that pill with a ghost pepper.
Cornerback Qwuantrezz Knight (Sr.)
Watch for 24 on the other side of the field, too. Knight is the best defensive player for the Bruins, and has been a nightmare for anyone on the other side.
Like some members of the Sun Devil secondary, Knight is a senior in name only. Two weeks from now, he will turn the age of his jersey number. His fourth season was 2019, and statistically, it was his best with 74 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
This season, Knight is on track to have another campaign like in 2019. Through four games, he has 17 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. He is not as much of a threat as a cover corner, as he has never recorded an interception in his career, but breaking tackles against him is near impossible.