Entering the season, UCLA's quarterback play was expected to be average at best – but when starter Kevin Prince was lost to injury, the Bruin pass game became greatly inefficient and nearly non-existent.
In Prince's absence, sophomore Richard Brehaut has stepped with very unflattering results. Though UCLA and offensive coordinator Norm Chow have implemented a Nevada-style Pistol offense, it's safe to say that observers haven't confused Bruin quarterbacks for Colin Kaepernick as UCLA's version of the Pistol has been about as explosive as a squirt gun.
In seven games with five starts, Brehaut has completed 66-of-121 passes (54.5 percent) for 745 yards with five interceptions and only two touchdowns, guiding the Bruins to one of the worst passing offenses in the country, standing at the bottom floor of the rankings at 117th in the country by averaging 114.2 yards-per-game.
In addition to his insufficient play, Brehaut has recently dealt with concussion issues, requiring inexperienced passers Darius Bell and Clayton Tunney to be forced into duty. Based on the limited results, the last thing that Rick Neuheisel wants is for either of those two to be on the field, as in sparse duty the pair has combined to complete only one pass in 11 attempts with two interceptions.
Though the pass game has been a liability all season long, thankfully for Bruin fans the run game has been sturdy and at times spectacular, as UCLA ranks 30th in the nation and fourth in the Pac-10 at 185.8 yards-per-game.
Unquestionably the top offensive performer this season for UCLA has been running back Johnathan Franklin, who likely will surpass the 1,000-yard mark against ASU as he stands at 945 yards on 187 carries with seven touchdowns.
Derrick Coleman (72 carries, 444 yards, five TDs) forms a formidable duo with Franklin, while true freshmen Malcolm Jones (50 carries, 189 yards) and Anthony Barr (six carries, 29 yards) have also taken snaps out of the backfield.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, a solid crop of receivers is found on the roster but has had very few chances to shine due to shoddy quarterback play.
Taylor Embree has the skills to be a respectable possession receiver but has managed only 16 catches for 228 yards, while Nelson Rosario has shown times of possessing pro potential but has caught only 10 passes for 150 yards in seven games. Neither Embree nor Rosario has caught a touchdown pass thus far, and the team-leader in that category, Ricky Marvray, has grabbed only two scoring receptions as part of his total of 15 catches for 146 yards.
Randall Carroll, acclaimed to be one of the fastest players in the nation and a player ASU seriously pursued two years ago, has appeared in all 10 games and has 13 receptions for 187 yards with one score, while his 14.4 yards-per-reception average is tops on the team.
Tight end Cory Harkey has started all 10 games and has nabbed 11 catches for 112 yards, while former mega-recruit Morrell Presley and Notre Dame transfer Joseph Fauria have made minimal contributions at that spot, combining for only four catches.
There's really no way to sugarcoat it – on the whole, UCLA's offense is just plain bad (111th nationally of 120 teams; 300.0 ypg).
You darn-near need to use expletives to describe the poor quality, especially in the passing game, as the Bruins' feeble aerial attempts make Knute Rockne's innovations seem all for naught.
With all the quarterback issues, it cannot be avoided that Johnathan Franklin is a highly-talented running back, but sadly for him UCLA passers are unable to do enough to keep defenses honest so ASU's M.O. all day will key around stopping Franklin and the other backs.
The game plan is fairly simple with UCLA has the ball – the Bruins need to, come hell or high water, find a way to make offensive strides through the air. Though for many this is a doable task, UCLA has had more cases than not that its quarterbacks have not only lacked playmaking power, but they have been prone to commit turnovers and other poor decisions.
If ASU can attack Brehaut early and create opportunities in the form of either turnovers or quick field position advantages, the chips could quickly fall in favor of the Sun Devils.
Up front, list a pair of true freshmen as starters on the defensive line in tackle Cassius Marsh (15 tackles, 0.5 TFL) and end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (eight tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks), with senior David Carter (35 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks) joining Marsh at tackle and sophomore Damien Holmes (22 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) pairing with Odighizuwa at defensive end.
Nomad Nate Chandler (20 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack), who has bounced around multiple offensive and defensive positions during his Bruin career, and junior Justin Edison (seven tackles, 0.5 TFL) are labeled as the top reserves at defensive tackle, while senior Reginald Stokes (seven tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) and redshirt freshmen Keenan Graham (15 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) are tabbed as the primary backup defensive ends.
Senior Akeem Ayers (59 tackles, team-high 9.5 TFL, team-high 4.0 sacks, team-high two INTs), potentially the Pac-10's most dynamic defender, is the driving force of UCLA's defense as its starting SAM linebacker. True freshman Jordan Zumwalt (25 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) is designated as the team's starting MIKE linebacker with junior Sean Westgate (81 tackles, team-high 9.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks), who has enjoyed a stellar year in 2010, joining as the first-string WILL linebacker.
Zumwalt is also listed as the top reserve at the SAM position, with junior Steve Sloan (11 tackles) also to fill in at MIKE linebacker. Arizonans Glenn Love (15 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) and Mike Schmitt (six tackles) fill out the depth chart at WILL linebacker behind Westgate.
After exhibiting All-America and surefire NFL potential a year ago, ball-hawk free safety Rahim Moore (65 tackles, 3.0 TFL) has cooled off this season dropping from his nation-best 10 interceptions to only one pick thus far in 2010. Sophomore Dalton Hilliard (18 tackles, 1.0 TFL) stands as his backup, with redshirt freshman Alex Mascarenas (two tackles) behind him.
Strong safety Tony Dye (76 tackles, team-high eight pass breakups) has submitted an excellent season thus far and is backed by true freshman Dietrich Riley (14 tackles, 1.0 TFL) and redshirt freshman Stan McKay (two tackles).
Sophomores Andrew Abbott (33 tackles, 2.0 TFL), Aaron Hester (20 tackles, team-high two INTs) and Sheldon Price (18 tackles, seven pass breakups) have all seen first-team duties at cornerback, while junior Courtney Viney (12 tackles) adds depth in the secondary.
UCLA has a number of talented defenders, however inconsistent play and a tremendous lack of experience and multiple positions has made this year a disappointing one for the Bruin defense, as the team ranks 79th in the country in total defense (397.2 ypg.)
Despite the general let-down, Ayers and Moore have game-changing abilities, while Dye and Westgate have had strong seasons as well. In addition to these capable veterans, a crop of future standouts is getting its chance to shine, which certainly creates the crap shoot of the window for awesome athletic achievements but also mental lapses.
With Ayers and Moore able to alter a game's momentum by forcing turnovers and generally impacting the quarterback's choices, UCLA's main window of opportunity on Friday will be to take advantage of Steven Threet's propensity for turnovers and enable the Bruins' anemic offense to work with short fields.
Thankfully for the Sun Devils, UCLA brings one of the nation's worst rush defenses to Tempe (101st nationally; 198.4 ypg allowed) so the odds are in favor of ASU being able to move the ball on the ground and not force Threet into many dangerous scenarios.
In all, ASU needs to avoid falling into the trap of poor decisions and undisciplined play – traits that the Devils are capable of limiting but also have had several instances of being impaired by.
Special Teams Preview
Football fans of the Pac-10 are aware of the skill level of kicker Kai Forbath, a former Lou Groza Award winner. Despite his past successes, Forbath has shown some inconsistency as a senior, connecting on 11-of-16 field goal attempts with all five misses coming from between 40-49 yards.
Punter Jeff Locke, an Arizona native, has emerged into one of the nation's better players at his position, averaging 45.8 yards on 52 punts with 16 over 50 yards and 17 downed inside the 20.
Josh Smith, a former transfer from Colorado, has seen action at wide receiver and is also the team's top man on kickoff returns with an average of 23.3 yards on 24 returns. Damien Thigpen has returned nine kickoffs on the year, while wide receiver Taylor Embree is the primary punt returner with 104 total yards on 14 returns.
Though long snappers rarely get much media attention, UCLA's Christian Yount, a Playboy All-American deserves mention as he may be the country's best snapper and surely has a long NFL career in his future.
The 2010 season has been a frustrating one for both Arizona State and UCLA, and Friday is as simple as do-or-die for both, as the losing team will be lose bowl eligibility.
Though UCLA has had a few anomalies this season – particularly a win in Austin over Texas early this year – the blandness of the Bruin offense has created substantial frustration for head coach Rick Neuheisel and all the UCLA faithful.
The numbers are staggering against UCLA; they have lost four of the past five games and in six of 10 games the Bruins have failed to score over 14 points. The offense has been abysmal, the defense has been disappointing and even UCLA's All-American kicker hasn't quite been up to standard.
Momentum and morale are as low as they have been at UCLA in several years, and ASU has every advantage to return to the win column on Friday.
ASU will have to cause itself several problems for UCLA to emerge victorious, but sadly, that has happened on a few occasions for the Sun Devils this year so ASU can ill-afford to enter the game with any sort of arrogance or presumption to sleepwalk to a win.
Five Questions: ASU vs. UCLA
• How much time will quarterback Brock Osweiler see?
• Can ASU avoid self-inflicted wounds and take advantage of a winnable opportunity?
• Will quarterback Steven Threet be mentally rattled by having his starting job recently taken into question?
• Will ASU be able to embrace the sense of urgency and need to win both its remaining games?
• Will UCLA continue its dismal struggles at quarterback?
Injury News and Lineup Notes
• The bye week has been kind to the maroon and gold as all the players who missed the game versus Stanford two weeks ago or were banged up in that contest are expected to play.
• After splitting reps for most of practice the last couple of weeks with Brock Osweiler QB Steven Threet is expected to retain his starter status. Yet, don't be surprised if and when the junior struggles early in the game don't be surprised to see the sophomore enter the game sooner rather than later.
• UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel is a Tempe native and attended McClintock High School.
• UCLA cornerback Jeff Dickman, kicker Kai Forbath and ASU offensive lineman Tyler Sulka both attended Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame High School.
• UCLA running back Malcolm Jones and defensive lineman Cassius Marsh and ASU tight end Christopher Coyle both attended Westlake (Calif.) Oaks Christian High School. Current ASU verbal commit Dillon van der Wal also attends Oaks Christian.
• UCLA punter Jeff Locke is an Arizona native and attended Glendale Mountain Ridge High School.
• UCLA linebacker Glenn Love is an Arizona native and attended Chandler Hamilton High School. ASU linebackers Anthony Jones, Gerald Munns and Colin Parker and Sun Devil wide receivers Gerell Robinson and Kerry Taylor also attended Hamilton. Early in Love's prep career, he was coached by John Wrenn, ASU's current Director of Football Operations.
• UCLA's Andy Magee was a former walk-on on ASU's roster.
• UCLA linebacker Mike Schmitt is an Arizona native and attended Peoria Cactus High School and Phoenix College.
• UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt's father, Rick, played for ASU in the 1980's.