THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT:
#17 Arizona State Sun Devils (8-2, 6-1 in the Pac-12 Conference)
PLACE: Rose Bowl
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 23, 4:00 p.m. PT
TV: Fox Channel 11 (in the Los Angeles area)
LINE: Arizona State by two and a 1/2
LAST MEETING: UCLA won, 45-43
ALL-TIME SERIES: UCLA leads, 18-10-1
Next to USC, I don’t think there is a college or a fan base that harbors more hatred for UCLA than Arizona State’s Sun Devils from the Phoenix suburb of Tempe right now, particularly after what happened between the Bruins and ASU the past two seasons:
In 2011, the Sun Devils missed a last second field goal attempt at the Rose Bowl, and the Bruins won by a point.
Last season, Ka’imi Fairbairn made a last second field goal at Sun Devil Stadium, and the Bruins won by two points.
That’s two losses by the grand total of three points.
If I were an Arizona State student, alum, or fan, I’d be really angry at UCLA, too.
And wanting revenge in the worst way, which first-year coach Todd Graham’s team will be desperately looking for in this showdown, which also serves as the Bruins’ last home game of the regular season.
Having been in first place in the Pac-12 South for a while, these Sun Devils certainly have the players to beat UCLA, starting with the reigning Pac-12 defensive player of the year, tackle Will Sutton.
The defensive tackle opted to forgo the NFL and stay at ASU for his senior year. The interesting thing is, as teams have obviously focused on stopping him Sutton doesn’t even lead his team in sacks or tackles for loss on a defense ranked 16th in the country in fewest yards given up and 17th against the run.
It’s defensive end Carl Bradford that’s on top with 5.5 sacks and 11 TFLs, with Davon Coleman, also a defensive end, close behind with 5 and 10.5, respectively.
Needless to say, the Bruins’ offensive line, featuring three true freshmen, are going to be royally challenged by Sutton, Bradford, Coleman, and the rest of that Sun Devil front seven.
Combine that with ASU’s 17 interceptions – Robert Nelson less the team with six – and Brett Hundley and company will have their hands full as they need to, to paraphrase the great coach John Wooden: “Be at their best when their best is needed.”
Which will definitely be the case on Saturday.
As for Arizona State’s offense, as they are averaging 42.3 points a game they are not exactly a slouch.
Taylor Kelly has had a great season to date with his 2,838 yards in the air, 62.4 % completion percentage and 24 touchdown passes, Jaelen Strong (59 catches) and D.J. Foster (50 catches) being Kelly’s main beneficiaries.
Plus much like Hundley he’s also a threat with his legs, ranking second on the team with seven rushing TDs.
When your quarterback leads the offense in rushing yards and touchdowns, as Hundley does with his 501 and seven, that’s a cause for concern.
At least the Bruins will have Myles Jack available in those crucial short-yardage situations.
Having gotten in the end zone four times against Washington his last time out, although the freshman is a linebacker first and foremost, Jim Mora will probably have no choice but to depend on Jack to get those first downs and scores.
That will keep the ASU offense off the field – provided that Xavier Sua-Filo, Jake Brendel and the rest of the o-line have outstanding days, which will be the key to UCLA’s success as that will also help the air attack, forcing Arizona State’s secondary to play more shallow and give Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller and the rest of the Bruin receivers more room to run their routes and make their catches.
Which will be crucial – they can’t have any drops or tips.
Putting it quite plainly, UCLA – on both offense and defense as Anthony Barr and his mates must pressure Kelly, or else they’re doomed – needs to play a near-perfect game on Saturday in order to beat the Sun Devils.
It’s a very good thing for the Bruins that the game is at home in front of their fans; their support will be extremely important as they will be counted on to make things difficult for ASU with their noise.
A win will not only go a ways to show what they are made of, as this game is the first part of a run that will define UCLA’s season with the renewal of their crosstown battle with on-fire USC the following week…
It will also be a good way to send alumni yell leader Geof Strand, who has been the heart and soul of Bruin Nation at football games leading cheers at the Rose Bowl, and is retiring this year, off with the proverbial bang.