Arizona State VS. UCLA: The Preview

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Arizona State VS. UCLA: The Preview
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Well, the decision that fans in Tempe were waiting anxiously for has been announced.

Sophomore quarterback Samson Szakacsy will be under center in his home state of California, with one job in mind: Leave the Rose Bowl with an Arizona State Sun Devil victory. 

Surely, that is the ideal situation for Head Coach Dennis Erickson.

Erickson has played musical chairs at quarterback all season long, and the fans at Frank Kush Field have been calling for different names to play quarterback.

At times, Szakacsy's name was not even mentioned. 

Until last weekend's performance in Eugene.

Szakacsy does not have a full game experience under his belt, but in his second half relief appearance of Brock Osweiler, Szakacsy passed and ran for a touchdown in the Sun Devils 44-21 loss. 

However, Erickson must have seen something that he liked in Szakacsy, to hand over the reigns to the Sun Devils in their final two games.

Maybe it was that spark, a little bit of energy, the athletic ability, or the calm demeanor of the redshirt Sophomore quarterback that warranted another shot in a full game. 

Unfortunately, fans in Westwood now have something else to worry about in the game this Saturday.

If Danny Sullivan or Brock Osweiler were starting for ASU, the UCLA defense would not have to worry about keeping an eye on the quarterback on run plays, because let's be honest, Sullivan or Osweiler are not going anywhere quickly. 

Szakacsy inserted into the quarterback position gives the Sun Devils an added threat on every single play, whether it's a run or a pass. Szakacsy has proven that he can make a lot out of nothing by extending the play with his legs. 

UCLA's defense has yet to truly see a dual-threat quarterback this season, other than Washington's Jake Locker. The Bruins were lucky enough to catch Oregon when their star offensive leader, Jeremiah Masoli, was injured. 

When UCLA played Washington, Locker was utilized more as a pocket passer in that game, than taking advantage of his athletic ability with his legs. Locker finished with only 23 yards on the ground, but passed for 235 yards. 

Now the Bruins will face a quarterback that has wide receiver or defensive back-type speed, who can also throw on the run, or in the pocket, with precision and velocity.

All of those traits sound well and good, but it is unfortunate that Szakacsy was not healthy enough early in the season to prove his worth as the starter.

Who knows, maybe the Sun Devils would have a totally different record heading into their final two games? 

The stories to watch for UCLA consist of their struggling quarterback play with Kevin Prince and Kevin Craft, as well as their defense trying to shutdown the ASU offense, similar to what Stanford, Oregon, and USC did to the Sun Devils did this season.

Prince will be the quarterback for the Bruins following a stellar performance against Washington State last week (314 yards passing, 76 yards rushing, and two total touchdowns). By looking at those numbers, it looks like the Bruins' defense will be well prepared for the athletic Szakacsy on Saturday. 

But how effective will UCLA be at stopping or shutting down the ASU rushing attack? Because as all football fans, coaches, players, and staff members know, to be successful, you must be able to run the football on offense and stop the run on defense. That is where it starts and ends for both of these teams.  

The winner of this game, will be the team that runs the football with consistency and effectiveness, and manages to slow down the opposing teams running game. 

But as in any game, turnovers, mistakes, and penalties will play a major role in determining the outcome.

Arizona State beat UCLA with four defensive touchdowns last season in a 34-9 blowout victory, but as of late, the Sun Devils have not forced the turnover numbers that fans and players became accustomed to earlier this season. 

For Arizona State, the penalties are still a major issue, and it seems to be unresolved week after week.

The Sun Devils have to limit those critical mental and emotional mistakes that might cost their team field position, yards, and maybe even the game. 

 

ASU Key Player   

Samson Szakacsy QB 

Yes, I know that Szakacsy has been all the talk this week, online, on the radio, and in the newspapers, but the hype must live up to the billing, or else this season can turn from a nightmare into a funeral procession.

The weight of the world, or at least Tempe, AZ is on the shoulders of a quarterback who has never made a start in his career and has a questionable elbow.

That doesn't seem like the formula for success to me, but Erickson is confident in his abilities as a play-maker in the offense, and you have to respect that the coach has faith in Szakacsy's style to get the job done as well. 

If Szakacsy puts together a full performance like he did in the second half against Oregon last weekend, the Sun Devils will be in great shape to earn the victory.

However, if Szakacsy lays an egg in Pasadena, and either Sullivan or Osweiler have to relieve him, well than all hopes and dreams of a potential bowl game go right down the toilet. 

 

UCLA Key Player 

Kevin Prince QB 

I am going to stick with the quarterbacks as the highlight performers this Saturday.

Sure, the quarterback touches the ball on every single play; that is why his job as a field general is so important.

Prince has had to take some lumps and some beatings while learning on the job this season, but as of late, the redshirt Freshman has transformed himself into a very solid and capable quarterback for UCLA and Head Coach Rick Neuheisel. 

Although Prince has only thrown six touchdowns this season, he has managed to find the end zone four times in his last three games. UCLA's record over that stretch was 2-1.

Now Prince has added another dimension to his game, using his legs to keep drives going, which has led to UCLA's possessions turning into touchdowns instead of punts or field goal attempts. 

For both of these teams, as the quarterbacks go, so goes the team! 

 

The Prediction 

This game has all the looks to be a hard fought defensive struggle, but in recent weeks both offenses have found new signs of life.

For ASU, Szakacsy has given the offensive unit a jump start, and seems to have given Erickson another playmaker on the field.

The Sun Devils' defense will have to perform better this week against UCLA than ASU looked last Saturday against the Ducks. Like I said, the first initiative on defense for ASU must be to contain the UCLA rushing attack. 

I don't think that UCLA will suddenly switch to a spread option attack like Oregon, or a powerful two-back running game like Stanford, so ASU should have a good amount of success on defense. The success and production that ASU has on defense will force UCLA to throw into tight coverages, and I think that is where the game will be decided once again. 

Last season in Tempe, Arizona State shutdown the UCLA offense, and forced then starter, Craft to throw, and throw he did. Craft gift wrapped the game for the Sun Devils with his four interceptions all returned for touchdowns. 

I don't see Prince throwing four interceptions, but in a crucial situation late in the contest, I think Prince will try to make a play, and the ball-hawking defense of ASU will come up with the turnover, and the Sun Devils will never look back. 

Final Score: ASU 27 UCLA 20 

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