Arizona State Sun Devils vs. UCLA Bruins: Complete Game Preview
The Pac-12 South title is on the line Saturday when the Arizona State Sun Devils take on the UCLA Bruins in Pasadena.
UCLA has been the Pac-12 South representative in the Pac-12 Championship game the last two years, but ASU is prepared to change that.
Lead by head coach Todd Graham, the Sun Devils are trying to get over the hump and look to earn their biggest victory of the year Saturday night.
It certainly won't be easy for Arizona State though, as they will have to take on a high-powered offense and ball-hawking defense on the road in Los Angeles.
Here is all the information you need to know about this major Pac-12 showdown.
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Radio: Sun Devil IMG Sports Network, AM 570 KLAC
Spread: ASU -2.5, according to Vegas.com.
Arizona State Keys to Victory
Protect Taylor Kelly
For whatever reason, quarterback Taylor Kelly hasn't looked like himself the past two weeks. He's only thrown for 163.5 yards per game in ASU's two November games, a far cry from his 358.8 yards per game in August and September. The Sun Devils need their offensive line to protect Kelly so he can make reads and dissect plays. UCLA has an excellent pass rush and it's crucial Arizona State controls the trenches.
Open Up the Playbook
It's no secret, Arizona State has a ton of offensive weapons. Recently, the Sun Devils high-octane offense has looked more like a broken down tow truck though. There hasn't been a spark or flair to their game and it's showed on the scoreboard. Against UCLA, Arizona State needs to open up their offensive playbook and catch the Bruins off guard. The Sun Devils need to get the most out of their playmakers such as Jaelen Strong, Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. Why not line up Foster and Grice in the backfield at the same time and run the triple option?
Arizona State forced five turnovers in their win over Oregon State last Saturday. They will need to do the same this weekend if they want to be victorious. The Rose Bowl will be packed and loud come Saturday night. ASU will need to suck the life out of the Bruins' fans and there's no better way to do that than to come up with a few interceptions or fumbles.
UCLA Keys to Victory
Don't Commit Penalties
Arizona State is the least penalized team in the Pac-12, UCLA is one of the highest. The Bruins rank 11th in the conference in penalty yards, averaging 79 yards per game. This game is going to be a close shootout, and a dumb roughing the passer, facemask or offside could cause a huge momentum swing. If UCLA wants to beat the Sun Devils on Saturday night, they need to keep their emotions in check and stay disciplined.
Establish the Run
Myles Jack has come out of nowhere and asserted himself as one of UCLA's best offensive weapons over the past few weeks. The running back/linebacker has rushed for 179 yards and five touchdowns on only 19 carries. The Sun Devils struggled earlier in the year stopping the run, but turned things around against Washington, holding Bishop Sankey to only 22 yards. ASU hasn't ever seen a running back like Jack before though. Jack has a linebacker's body with breakaway speed and big-play ability comparable to ASU's Marion Grice. If the Bruins can establish the run and take pressure off of quarterback Brett Hundley, it could be a long day for ASU.
Score in the Red Zone
ASU and UCLA are among the best red zone scoring teams in the Pac-12. The Bruins score on nearly 90 percent of their red zone possessions and that will have to hold true on Saturday if they want to win. This game will be close throughout, and no team can afford to leave points on the board.
Arizona State Players to Watch
November hasn't been friendly to Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly. He's been sacked eight times and has only thrown one touchdown to two interceptions. Kelly has looked uncomfortable and hasn't looked like himself in ASU's past few games, and that will have to change Saturday if ASU wants to win. The Sun Devils need their quarterback to play at his highest level if they want to capture the Pac-12 South title.
The critics have been on Sutton all year. The senior defensive tackle only has two sacks this year and hasn't quite had the impact most expected of him. Against UCLA, Sutton needs to step up. The defensive tackle sealed ASU's victory over Utah with a late interception and he will need to come up with a big play like that on Saturday for ASU to be victorious. While Sutton won't get another interception, maybe in his entire career, he will have to control the line of scrimmage and stop UCLA's running game Saturday night.
UCLA Players to Watch
Jack was close to coming to ASU, but chose UCLA and could ultimately be the reason ASU comes up short of a Pac-12 South title for the third year in a row. The freshman has become a two-way star for the Bruins, having racked up 68 tackles this year while scoring five touchdowns since he's been inserted as a running back. ASU will have their hands full stopping Jack as a pass rusher and containing him as a running back.
This game will be a battle of the quarterbacks, and could come down to what quarterback leads their team on a game-winning drive late. Hundley threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns in the Bruins meeting with Arizona State last year in Tempe and has since become a more polished player. The Sun Devils will need to show unique blitz packages and coverage schemes to get Hundley off of his game, because the Bruins' quarterback may be the best ASU has faced this year.
What They're Saying
ASU head coach Todd Graham told Doug Haller of azcentral.com that he thinks his defense is peaking at the right time saying, "I think we’re playing the best that we’ve played since I’ve been here. We’re still a long way from where we can be, but we’re playing at a high level. We’ve been pretty dominant the last three or four weeks."
Arizonasports.com breaks down both UCLA and ASU's chances of making the Pac-12 Championship game:
How the Sun Devils get in:
With a win at UCLA Saturday, ASU (8-2, 6-1) automatically clinches the Pac-12 South.
However, Todd Graham's squad can still reach the title game if it fails to beat the Bruins. With a win at home against in-state rival Arizona and a UCLA loss at USC the following week, the Sun Devils would still represent the Pac-12 South on Dec. 7.
Remaining Schedule: @ UCLA (November 23) and vs. Arizona (November 30)
How the Bruins get in:
A win over ASU this weekend does not by itself send Jim Mora and Co. to the conference title game.
The Bruins (8-2, 5-2) would then have to beat crosstown rival USC in their regular season finale or have ASU lose at home to Arizona.
Remaining Schedule: vs. ASU (November 23) and @ USC (November 30)
Bruins running back/linebacker Myles Jack told Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times his success starts with following what his quarterback tells him to do. "I really have just one play. I ask Brett where I go. Brett says, ‘Myles, go right’ and I go, 'OK.’ I look over to the marker and see that it is third-and-one and focus on getting that yard."
College GameDay shared this nugget of information regarding UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr.:
Under Jim Mora, UCLA has never lost a game to a Pac-12 South opponent (8-0). #ASUvsUCLA— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) November 18, 2013
For ASU wide reciever Richard Smith, this game is for more than just Pac-12 South bragging rights:
Arizona State 38, UCLA 31
Arizona State will clinch the Pac-12 South crown this Saturday in Pasadena.
In the end, the Bruins mental errors will cost them and the Sun Devils will make a key play late to seal the deal.
It's hard to imagine ASU will have three poor offensive showings in a row.
Taylor Kelly will lead the Sun Devil offense to a successful showing and Marion Grice will score at least one touchdown.
Myles Jack will come back down to earth and the Sun Devils will head into their annual, Territorial Cup meeting with Arizona as the Pac-12 South champions.
Sun Devil fans have been waiting for a signature victory like this for too long and their wait will end soon.