When Rick Neuheisel took the head coaching job at UCLA, he took in a program in dire need of a jump start. What was once a storied football team had diminished into an underachieving and lackluster group that never saw January. Unfortunately for Neuheisel, he hasn't done much to improve the state of affairs.
However, he could change the entire scope of the 2011 season and possibly keep his job if he engineers a victory on Saturday against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Currently, UCLA is only one game behind Arizona State for first place in the Pac-12 South division. Should they win Saturday, they would find themselves in a tie for first place; and yes, a clear path to the Rose Bowl game in January.
When UCLA beat Cal last weekend, their future actually became bright. There was hope in Westwood. Much maligned quarterback Kevin Prince rushed for 163 yards en route to a 31-14 win. The Bruins looked like a football team that executed their playbook. Neuheisel's seat was cooled ever so slightly.
Arizona State comes in ranked 20th in the country. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict and quarterback Brock Osweiler have led the Sun Devils to a 6-2 record. However, a team that gives up only 21 points per game, gave up 42 against Oregon, despite playing against the Ducks backup quarterback for most of the game.
To look at this realistically, it's hard to imagine the Bruins pulling out a victory. UCLA scores 24.8 points per game compared to the Sun Devils 35.9. Without a potent passing game, the Bruins will need to rely on a strong running offense. Unfortunately for Neuheisel's bunch, Arizona State compensates for a weak secondary with possibly the best linebacking core in the Pac-12. The matchup favors the Sun Devils tremendously.
If UCLA has an edge on the Sun Devils, it would be the level of intensity. A season that was headed for the toilet has been given a boost, and the Bruins will be playing with nothing to lose. Arizona State rolled over Colorado, but has a tough road game against Washington State the week after. The Cougars have a solid passing attack and could throw a wrench in the plans for the Sun Devils. It's not out of the question that the game against the Bruins is being overlooked, and opportunity grows from such moments.
Can UCLA take advantage of Arizona State? It remains to be seen. Confidence is oozing from the Sun Devils, and the game in Pasadena is already fated to be a laugher. The Bruins will need their defense to play better than they have all season, and their pistol offense will need to rely on the dual threat to keep Arizona State honest.
All things considered, the Bruins most likely stay in the ball game, but won't have the firepower to match Arizona State.
ASU 28, UCLA 10