Arizona State Sun Devils vs. UCLA Bruins: Complete Game Preview
The No. 14 UCLA Bruins (8-2) and the No. 19 Arizona State Sun Devils (8-2) will face off at the Rose Bowl in a game that could very well determine the winner of the Pac-12 South Division.
Arizona State currently leads the division from a conference-record standpoint. Should UCLA defeat the Sun Devils, it would then be the Bruins with the likely path to the conference championship game. Hypothetically speaking, both teams would have two conference losses. However, UCLA would hold the tiebreaker.
If the Sun Devils are victorious on Saturday, they would win the division and compete against most likely Oregon in the title game.
Suffice it to say, this game has massive implications.
Here's what you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Nov. 23
Time: 4 p.m. PT
Place: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Radio: Sirius XM Radio
Line: Arizona State (-2.5), per Vegas Insider
Arizona State Keys to Victory
Win the turnover battle
ASU should be able to generate pressure with its impressive defensive line. Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Davon Coleman lead an undersized, but speedy defense. UCLA's young offensive line has had problems throughout the year in pass protection.
ASU would love nothing more than to disrupt Brett Hundley, forcing an errant throw for an interception. Playing on the road against a ranked team is never an easy thing. The Sun Devils will need to win the turnover battle and not commit self-inflicted wounds if they are to win.
Attack UCLA vertically
The Sun Devils have a plethora of talented receiving options. Perhaps the best of the bunch is 6'4" Jaelen Strong. Aside from Strong, Ric Smith, Kevin Ozier and Chris Coyle all can make plays.
Coyle in particular is a potential mismatch over the middle. It'd behoove ASU to get Coyle matched up with linebackers on patterns that exploit the seams of the field.
UCLA's secondary had been playing well...before the game against Washington, in which UCLA gave up 330 yards through the air. Arizona State should look to stretch the field vertically and challenge the Bruins' inexperienced secondary to make plays.
UCLA Keys to Victory
Keep Taylor Kelly in the pocket
Kelly is in a lot of ways similar to Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker. Neither has exceptional size nor arm strength. However, both are mobile, efficient quarterbacks who play with intelligence and moxie.
Kelly is much more effective rolling out and throwing on the run. UCLA needs to make him stay within the pocket. He's had some difficulties from the standpoint of going through his progressions and making throws down the field. Against Oregon State and Utah, Kelly's play was a bit concerning.
Rattle ASU early
All of the pressure is on Arizona State in this contest. Todd Graham is still trying to legitimize his program as a power in the Pac-12 South Division. With a win against UCLA, the Sun Devils will play in (and could potentially host) the Pac-12 Conference title game.
Much like last week against Washington, the Bruins would love to jump on ASU and score multiple touchdowns in the first quarter. It would not be a shock to see Noel Mazzone dial up a trick play early in order to get some momentum.
Save for Washington State, ASU has not looked very good on the road. UCLA will want to energize what should be an exceptional crowd at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. Again, all of the pressure is squarely on ASU.
Players to Watch for Arizona State
The All-American defensive tackle hasn't been able to replicate the success from a year ago, in which he was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He's not only been facing double- and even triple-teams on a constant basis, but there has also been some questions about his durability and stamina.
Sutton will need to perform at a high clip against the Bruins. He's slated to be lined up against a redshirt sophomore center (Jake Brendel) and a true freshman guard (Scott Quessenberry) with only four games of collegiate experience. Sutton should be salivating at the potential matchup.
Everything in UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's offense is predicated upon timing and execution. If Sutton is dominating up front, it could completely disrupt the Bruins' offensive rhythm.
The former junior college receiver from Philadelphia has been a revelation in his first year with the Sun Devils. Strong leads the team with 59 receptions and 834 yards receiving. He went on a streak earlier in the season in which he had over 100 yards receiving in five straight contests.
UCLA will have its proverbial hands full with ASU's talented wideout. Strong, at 6'4", often skies over the opposition with his impressive wingspan and vertical leap. He's also adept at racking up good yardage after the catch.
The Bruins secondary had a clunker of a game last week versus Washington. The unit as a whole gave up 330 yards through the air against the Huskies and were often targeted over the top. A strong game by Strong (pun intended) could propel the Sun Devils to victory.
Players to Watch for UCLA
After two subpar games versus Oregon and Stanford, Hundley has played relatively well. He's shown the ability in recent weeks to throw the ball down the field with precision and, most importantly, confidence.
ASU figures to provide a stiff test with its pressure up front. The likes of Sutton, Carl Bradford and Davon Coleman will pressure early and often. ASU's defense also gives up the least amount of yards per game in the conference.
Hundley truly is the key to the game for the Bruins. He needs to play well in order for UCLA to come away with a victory. In essence, that involves not taking bad sacks, making the right reads on progressions and taking off with his legs when need be.
Arizona State loves to get its running backs out in space via screens, wheel routes and and swing passes. D.J. Foster in particular is quite effective as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
In order to compensate for potential problems on the edge, UCLA has to tackle well. Myles Jack has the versatility and athleticism to match up with smaller, shiftier players on the perimeter. Look for Jack to see plenty of time in the box in order to deal with ASU's short-pass attack.
Offensively, is there any question that we'll see a heavy dose of the true freshman carrying the ball?
Jordon James could potentially return this week from a nagging high ankle sprain. Regardless, Jack is the best running back on the roster. Jim Mora does not want to overexert his talented athlete with time on both sides of the ball. Considering that this game is a must-win, it'd be a safe bet that Jack's role as a tailback continues to expand.
What They Are Saying
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham on UCLA athlete Myles Jack, per ArizonaSports.com: "I haven't seen in awhile a freshman be able to come in and play like he's been able to. He has tremendous athleticism on both sides of the ball, and I mean he's impressive as a running back."
Graham on the game, per the Sun Devils' official Twitter account: "I'm excited for UCLA. It's not just any game, it's what we've been practicing for all season."
UCLA head coach Jim Mora on ASU's running backs stable, via UCLABruins.com: "I think they've got a couple of real good backs. They're a team that utilizes their personnel well. The coaches have done a great job marrying their talent to their scheme."
There's no doubt that this will be a close contest. UCLA has beaten Arizona State in each of the last two seasons. In 2011, the Bruins won at home by the score of 29-28. Last season, UCLA upended the Sun Devils 45-43 in Tempe on a last-second field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn.
Emotions are expected to be running high for a myriad of reasons. A vast majority of Arizona State's team hails from Southern California. Additionally, there are mass amounts of Arizona State alumni currently living in and originating from the area. The Rose Bowl should have an electric atmosphere.
Todd Graham's group also wants to prove that it is in fact the class of the division. ASU has had talented teams in recent memory but hasn't been able to get over the proverbial hill. With a senior-laden team in 2013, this might be the best chance to do so. Graham also hasn't been shy about his "hyping up" of this particular affair.
However, UCLA also has something to prove. The Bruins are attempting to win the South Division for the third straight year. That goal is attainable, realistically, if UCLA can win its remaining two games.
UCLA is the home team, and Arizona State isn't a great road team traditionally. Another stat that bodes well for the Bruins: Jim Mora is 8-0 in his career against Pac-12 South Division opponents.
The Bruins will come out with the narrow victory, keeping their chances at a division crown alive.
UCLA 31, Arizona State 30