After splitting starts through the season's first eight games with Richard Brehaut at quarterback, Kevin Prince will be at the helm for the Bruins. Though Prince has had an up-and-down season and career to say the least, he faces ASU on the heels of one of the better performances as a Bruin, rushing for 163 yards and passing for 92. In total, Prince's statistics include a 52.6% completion percentage for 635 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions as well as 235 net rushing yards on 41 attempts.
Prince's job is clearly made easier by the work of his two main running backs, Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman. The seasoned pair is used with relative equity, with Franklin receiving 96 carries as the starter in all eight games and Coleman not far behind with 84. Thus far, the duo has totaled 988 yards and 12 touchdowns, with Franklin leading in yards (565) and Coleman leading in touchdowns (nine).
Schematically, UCLA runs much of its offense from a variation of the "Pistol" offense brought to fame by the University of Nevada, while using a variety of backs as well as motion and misdirection plays.
In addition to the traditional running backs, the team utilizes an F-back, which typically is either Jordon James or Anthony Barr. James was a highly-ranked running back in high school, while Barr is a big, versatile athlete that uses his frame in a variety of ways. On the season, the pair has combined for 19 carries and six receptions.
In the pass game, wide receiver Nelson Rosario (35 catches, 614 yards) and tight end Joseph Fauria (16 catches, 231 yards, four touchdowns) combine for just about all of UCLA's statistical receiving productivity in terms of receptions, yards and touchdowns. Shaquelle Evans, a former Notre Dame transfer as is Fauria, ranks third on the team with 11 catches for 164 yards, while Taylor Embree, the son of the head coach of ASU's opponent last week, has caught 10 passes for 121 yards and a score. Josh Smith, a former transfer from Colorado, leads UCLA with a 23.1-yard average on seven catches and Ricky Marvray, formerly a teammate of several Sun Devils at Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School, has six catches for 41 yards to his credit.
UCLA's offensive line has been above average this year, helping the Bruins rank third in the league in rush offense (187.2 ypg.) and fourth in sacks allowed (eight). Four of the five starters have been in the starting lineup consistently—weak tackle Jeff Baca, weak guard Greg Capella, center Kai Maiava and strong tackle Mike Harris. Wade Yandall and Alberto Cid have split duties at strong guard, while Brett Downey is listed as the top reserve at either tackle position, Chris Ward at backup weak tackle and Capella as the number two center.
UCLA Offense in a Nutshell
Though the run game is strong, abysmal quarterback play has been the killer in UCLA's losses—especially those to Texas, Stanford and Arizona in which the Bruins were outscored by a total margin of 142-51. Though Prince channeled his inner Tebow last week against Cal, his typical "Tebow" has been a Broncos version more so than the Florida one. Prince was a catalyst toward UCLA's victory last week with his ability as a runner, but he has also had many instances of sabotaging the Bruins' success.
Franklin and Coleman are dynamic and potent, but the key for the Bruins is the measure of balance they can create on offense. If Prince is inaccurate and bottled as a runner, the chances of him making mistakes increases—especially against ASU's turnover machine defense.
On the defensive front, UCLA has been making a few changes recently, due to multiple factors including the two-game suspension of starting tackle Cassius Marsh as well as a generally futile run defense.
Datone Jones, UCLA's top lineman, has played both end and tackle and leads the team with 3.0 sacks. Damien Holmes, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Iuta Tepa are also options at defensive end, while Justin Edison, Donovan Carter and Nate Chandler are three of the primary defensive tackles.
At linebacker, Patrick Larimore (team-high 49 tackles) and Sean Westgate (27 tackles) have each started all eight games, while Glenn Love (11 tackles), an Arizona native and Jordan Zumwalt (37 tackles), whose father played football at ASU, share duties at outside linebacker. Eric Kendricks, though a reserve, is second on the team with 43 total tackles.
In the secondary, Aaron Hester (43 tackles) has started every game at cornerback, while Sheldon Price has started six and Andrew Abbott (19 tackles) two, with Brandon Sermons (one tackle) as a top reserve as well.
UCLA could potentially be without both of the season's starting safeties, as Tony Dye has missed substantial time due to injury, while strong safety Dietrich Riley, a starter in five games this year, was injured last week and may not play against ASU. Filling in at safety figures to be strong safety Stan McKay (17 tackles) and free safety Tevin McDonald (28 tackles), who had a career day with three interceptions last week against Cal.
UCLA Defense in a Nutshell
Statistically, UCLA is a subpar defensive team as a whole, ranking 12th in third-down defense (52.1%), 11th in rushing defense (184.6 ypg.), 11th in red zone defense (91.2%), 11th in sacks (nine), ninth in total defense (423.2 ypg.), eighth in scoring defense (31.9 ppg.) among Pac-12 teams.
The Bruins defend the pass fairly well (fourth in the Pac-12; 238.6 ypg), but the team's pass defense efficiency rating rates only eighth in the league at 133.5.
Overall, there is a great deal of youth and a lack of star talent on defense for the Bruins, and the team especially struggles up front both in run defense and pass pressure. If these statistics hold true on Saturday, look for Cameron Marshall to mimic his three-touchdown day against Colorado as well as Brock emulating not only his efficient 300-yard performance versus the Buffaloes but also Osweiler's breakout game last year against the Bruins in Tempe.
Special Teams Preview
UCLA is entirely set at punter, but the rest is a major question mark.
Arizona native Jeff Locke has become one of college football's premier punters, this year averaging 44.9 yards on 35 punts.
After Kip Smith suffered an early-season injury, the Bruins faced dire conditions to replace him at placekicker. Locke has been used, but UCLA also made headlines by bringing the school's soccer manager, Tyler Gonzalez, on to kick. Each of the three kickers has made two of three attempts, with Gonzalez, the current kicker, having a long of 42 yards.
In addition to instability at kicker, UCLA's returns have been equally irrelevant. Josh Smith averages 23.0 yards on 29 kickoff returns, but the team as a whole only lists a 20.1-yard average. Punt returns have been a steady serving of nothingness, as Taylor Embree averages 3.3 yards on seven returns and the team as a whole boasts a puny average of 2.7 yards on 10 punt returns.
Between the magnitude of the game as far as both teams' chances for a division crown and UCLA's surprise performance last week against Cal, it appears as though some people are overthinking this game. Just two weeks ago, against Arizona, UCLA submitted one of the poorest performances by a Pac-12 team this year, which, when combined with losses against Texas and Stanford, show that UCLA is far too susceptible to creating its own demise to be largely successful.
Though UCLA has a very solid running game, the x-factor here will be Kevin Prince, who has more frequently been a liability to the Bruins than an asset. If ASU can limit the Bruins' ground game and pressure Prince, the recipe is in perfect place for the Sun Devils' turnover hungry defense to strike.
The matchup of ASU's offense versus UCLA's defense seems to greatly favor ASU, and similar to last week the opportunity appears to be in place for the Devils to compose a highly balanced effort due to a lackluster UCLA run defense.
UCLA, however, will certainly be fired up for this contest as a win gives them an edge in the division race, a concept that seemed virtually impossible two weeks ago when the Bruins were embarrassed on national television against Arizona.
Keys to a Sun Devil Victory
Crown The Prince
It is no secret that Kevin Prince is an erratic, inconsistent passer, and if ASU can rattle him, he will play right into the Sun Devils' game plan. Against Texas, Prince eliminated UCLA's chances to win with three first-quarter turnovers, a fate that could repeat against ASU given the Sun Devils ability to force turnovers at mass.
Discipline on D
In a game like this, with multiple talented runners, ASU's defensive front has to focus and be disciplined—players like Franklin, Coleman and even Prince can gain quick yardage if the Devils miss tackles or take poor angles. If ASU can limit UCLA's run game, and place the Bruins' offensive fate on Prince's passing arm, the Sun Devils will be in very good shape.
Cameron Marshall looked excellent against Colorado, and UCLA's inadequate run defense must have No. 6 smiling big. If ASU can give UCLA a potent dose of Marshall early and effectively, ASU can start to roll offensively when things open up in the pass game. Also, the return of tackle Evan Finkenberg certainly helps matters both from the perspective of the starting lineup and depth along the offensive line.
Injury News and Lineup Notes
• After missing time against Colorado, cornerback Deveron Carr is expected back in the lineup.
• Offensive tackle Evan Finkenberg is expected to return to the lineup as the starting left tackle.