UCLA Preview

The Homecoming game often features a less than formidable opponent, but the UCLA Bruins, who come to town this weekend hardly fit that description. Devils Digest's Joe Healey examines ASU's next opponent.

Offensive Preview Bruin quarterback Brett Hundley is an athlete many ASU fans remember from his standout days guiding the Chandler High School offense, but the sensational start he has had to his college career has gained him recognition on a national level as well. A dynamic dual threat, Hundley has shown skills far beyond his years and has the clear potential to be a major honors candidate by the time his Bruin days are over.

In seven starts, Hundley has totaled 1,916 passing yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 66.5% of his passes. On pace to throw for about 3,500 yards and a top candidate for Pac-12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year, Hundley's numbers are somewhat negatively skewed by a four-interception performance in UCLA's loss to California.

Hundley has also been a factor on the ground—whether making dynamic plays with his feet or simply avoiding trouble—as he's accumulated 240 net rushing yards with five touchdowns despite playing behind an offensive line ranked among the nation's bottom 20 in sacks allowed.

Through seven games, Hundley only has one game with negative rushing yards and three games with at least 32 net rush yards, making his versatility a definite threat to ASU.

Upperclassmen Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince, both former starters beaten out by Hundley this preseason, are available for spot duty and have seen limited action this season.

Though he has always been a very solid runner, senior Johnathan Franklin was rarely mentioned among the Pac-12's elite backs, but his 2012 campaign has not only vaulted him to among the league's elite rushers but his statistics compare to just about anyone on a national level as well.

The early season national rushing leader, Franklin has totaled 878 rushing yards on 130 carries with four touchdowns. An incredible playmaker, Franklin averages 6.8 yards per carry and is well on his way to an all-purpose yardage total of over 2,000 yards due to his use in the run and pass game. Franklin has surpassed 100 rushing yards in five of seven games so far in 2012 with efforts surpassing the 200-yard mark in the season's first two contests.

He can be counted on to earn 20 or more carries to set the tone against an aggressive Sun Devil defense and to help open opportunities for Hundley in the pass game.

Also heavily used as pass-catchers as well as runners, Jordon James and Damien Thigpen have combined for 437 rushing yards and two scores. Former five-star back Malcolm Jones appeared in one game this season before deciding to transfer.

With the departure of players such as Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario, Shaquelle Evans has stepped into the spotlight as UCLA's primary go-to receiver. The one time member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish has totaled 28 catches for 413 yards and two scores, numbers that already match or exceed his entire season totals from 2011. Evans had a breakout game against Oregon State, with six catches for 148 yards and a touchdown, which is UCLA's only 100-yard receiving effort thus far in 2012.

Aside from Evans, Joseph Fauria—also a former transfer from Notre Dame—has been UCLA's most dangerous pass-catcher, hauling in 19 receptions for 241 yards and a team-high five touchdown catches. A 6-foot-7 beast, Fauria has been highly reliable in 2012, catching at least two passes in every game and recording at least one touchdown in four of the seven games this year. A mismatch for virtually every defender he faces, Fauria can be expected to be a routine target for Hundley especially in times that ASU brings heavy defensive pressure.

Versatile athlete Steven Manfro—originally a running back to start his college career—fills the "Jamal Miles" type of role in the UCLA pass game for Noel Mazzone. Through seven games, Manfro is UCLA's second-leading receiver with 23 receptions for 220 yards.

Jerry Johnson fills out the starting lineup at receiver and has totaled 15 receptions for 155 yards and one score.

Running backs Johnathan Franklin, Jordon James and Damien Thigpen have been heavily used in the pass game as well, with the trio combining for 47 receptions for 465 yards and two scores.

Darius Bell, Jerry Rice, Jr., Kenneth Walker and Ricky Marvray have also been involved in the Bruin pass game.

With Devin Lucien out due to injury, true freshman Jordan Payton has become a factor the past two games with five catches for 60 yards between the two contests.

Along the offensive line, UCLA shows some potential but also suffers natural growing pains common among a unit that features three freshmen and a sophomore that was out of football last two years while on an LDS mission. One aspect working in the Bruins' favor is budding continuity as four of the five linemen have started all seven games this season.

Though UCLA has enabled Franklin to become one of the nation's most prolific runners and Hundley to excel as a freshman, the Bruin line ranks 105th nationally in sacks allowed and 113th in tackles for loss allowed, categories in which the Sun Devil defense is ranked second and first, respectively, on a national level.

The Bruins line consists of redshirt freshman Torian White at left tackle, sophomore Xavier Su'a-Filo at left guard, redshirt freshman Jacob Brendel at center, senior Jeff Baca at right guard and true freshman Simon Goines at right tackle. Su'a-Filo was an Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 and Freshman All-America member in 2009 for the Bruins before departing to an LDS mission for 2010 and '11.

UCLA's Offense in a Nutshell With a few twists and turns, Sun Devil fans will recognize a great deal of UCLA's offense due to the Noel Mazzone factor with the Bruins. UCLA likely will look to get players the ball in space a la Jamal Miles in 2011, which as we all know can be a risk/reward proposition.

UCLA has used a bit of trickeration so far in 2012 as well, as defensive linemen Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh have each caught touchdown passes.

As far as the personnel use is concerned, Hundley will be the key player to watch as his performance likely will dictate the outcome of the game. Franklin, one of the nation's top running backs, likely will get his numbers on the ground, so ASU will absolutely have to disrupt Hundley in order to ultimately tip the scales in favor of the Sun Devils.

ASU needs to pressure Hundley to throw off his timing, but the Sun Devil defense will have to maintain containment as the redshirt freshman has ample athleticism to gain chunks of yardage when flushed out of the pocket and he can easily find the likes of Evans and Fauria if defensive gaps emerge.

The Sun Devils may have some luck bringing outside pressure from the likes of Carl Bradford, Junior Onyeali and Chris Young due to the youth of UCLA's offensive tackles, but again, ASU will have to be exact in its pass rush to not hand open field opportunities to Hundley.

Defensive Preview The Bruins operate primarily out of a 3-4 alignment with heavy pressure coming from the linebackers. UCLA's secondary is opportunistic as well, as the Bruins are among the nation's top teams for generating interceptions.

Along the defensive line, ends Datone Jones (6-4, 275) and Cassius Marsh (6-3, 275) are versatile keys to the effectiveness of the front. The starting duo all seven games, both players have totaled 23 tackles. Jones has chipped in 11.0 TFLs and 4.0 sacks while Marsh has added 4.5 and 2.0 of his own.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (6-3, 270) and Donovan Carter (6-1, 305) are the primary backups behind Jones and Marsh at the end positions. Odighizuwa, a former five-star recruit, has shown flashes of promise with 3.5 TFLs and 2.0 sacks in a reserve role.

At the nose of the three-man front is Seali'I Epenesa (6-1, 310), backed by Brandon Willis (6-2, 280). A true space-eating nose tackle, Epenesa's statistical influence is limited as he's totaled only 15 tackles with no TFLs or sacks in seven games.

UCLA's starting four linebackers each bring an impressive skill set to the field, and the emergence of former offensive back Anthony Barr has kickstarted the effectiveness of the group as a whole.

Barr (6-4, 235) is currently among the nation's leaders with 7.5 sacks among his 11.5 total TFLs, while he also ranks third on the team with 37 total tackles and leads the Bruins with three forced fumbles from his right outside linebacker position. Right inside linebacker Eric Kendricks, brother of last year's Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks of Cal, has collected a team-best 57 tackles while veteran Damien Holmes has added 32 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks of his own at left outside linebacker. Left inside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, the son of a former Sun Devil football player, rounds out the starting lineup and has posted 21 tackles in six games.

Led by a strong group of linebackers that has combined for 21 TFLs and 12 sacks, UCLA stands seventh in the nation in sacks and 20th in tackles for loss. True freshmen Nate Iese (6-4, 237) and Aaron Porter (6-1, 230), sophomore Ryan Hofmeister (6-2, 225) and junior Keenan Graham (6-2, 247) are listed as the four second-string linebackers for UCLA.

Similar to how the Bruin front is highly proficient at generating sacks, UCLA's secondary has similar playmaking skills as the team ranks 13th in the nation with 11 interceptions—all generated by the cornerbacks and safeties.

The Bruin secondary features corners Sheldon Price (6-2, 180) and Aaron Hester (6-1, 207), both with tremendous size and playmaking abilities. Price has collected 17 tackles but more impressively a team-best four interceptions, while Hester uses his size to his advantage, ranking second among UCLA's defensive backs with 21 tackles.

Free safety Tevin McDonald (5-11, 185), the younger brother of USC's T.J. McDonald, has shown ball skills similar to his All-American sibling, while strong safety Andrew Abbott (5-8, 180) is a versatile veteran. McDonald stands second behind Kendricks among the team's leading tacklers with 36, as well as a team-best four pass breakups. Abbott, a playmaker in his own right, has hauled in three interceptions and 25 total tackles.

UCLA's depth chart at cornerback consists entirely of true freshmen outside the two starters, with Fabian Moreau (6-0, 180), Marcus Rios (6-0-180) and Randall Goforth (5-10, 173) listed on the depth chart.

Stan McKay (6-1, 205) and Brandon Sermons (6-0, 195) are listed behind McDonald while Dalton Hilliard (5-11, 198) and Anthony Jefferson (6-1, 184) are Abbott's primary reserves.

UCLA's Defense in a Nutshell There are several defensive statistical categories in which UCLA struggles – the Bruins are outside the nation's top-40 in the majority of key areas—but UCLA is highly proficient at creating turnovers and generating tackles for loss and sacks. If the Bruins can hold true to their tendencies in these three areas, they can negate any deficiencies elsewhere in the defensive game plan and give short fields for the UCLA offense to utilize.

Strategically, according to David Woods of BruinReportOnline.com, UCLA likely will bring a great deal of pressure up the middle—especially early in the game to set the tone defensively. This creates a specific matchup to watch at right guard for the Sun Devils if redshirt freshman Vi Teofilo is thrown into starting duty in place of fifth-year senior and captain Andrew Sampson. This factor, coupled with the ability of UCLA's secondary to generate interceptions, likely points to little focus in down field passing and heavy reliance on underneath passes to the likes of Chris Coyle as well as to running backs out of the backfield.

When the Sun Devils are on offense, ASU needs to find a way to buy time for Taylor Kelly and Kelly—pressured or not—must not test the talented ball skills of UCLA's defenders and give up costly turnovers to the visiting team.

Special Teams Preview True freshman Ka'imi Fairbairn handles placekicking duties for the Bruins, while standout veteran Jeff Locke, a Glendale native, punts, kicks off and holds for Fairbairn's kicks.

Fairbairn has connected on 9-of-14 field goals this year, showing limited power thus far by missing all four attempts from 36 yards or deeper but connecting on 9-of-10 from 35 and closer.

Locke, one of the nation's best punters, averages 41.9 yards on 40 punts with half being fair caught and nine extending 50 or more yards. He has also kicked touchbacks on 36 of 43 kickoffs on the year.

Steven Manfro and Jordon James are listed as the top kick and punt returners. Manfro averages just below 10 yards on punt returns and has seen limited duty on kick returns.

Damien Thigpen has excelled on kickoff returns with a 25.8-yard average on 13 returns but is listed third on the weekly depth chart behind Manfro and James.

Conclusion

No doubt about it, UCLA is a team that mirrors ASU in several ways and the importance of this game is equally large for both teams involved.

Both programs are standing at 5-2 and have different measures of satisfaction and disappointment in the 2012 season—UCLA, a ranked team early in the year, has regressed out of the national spotlight with many of its toughest games ahead, while ASU is looking to recollect itself after last week's drubbing at the hands of Oregon.

There are strengths in various areas for both teams that can provide advantages either way as ASU boasts one of the nation's top defenses, UCLA brings one of college football's most established rushers to Tempe and both squads have highly talented young quarterbacks at the helm.

Saturday figures to be a close affair for the Bruins and Devils and the outcome likely won't exceed a touchdown for the winning team. What remains to be seen is the mental state of the teams as UCLA has had a week to prepare following a close win over Utah while the Devils have to clear their minds of last week's embarrassing loss to the Ducks.

The cleanest quarterback in this game likely will have his hand raised as the victor, as ASU will need offensive balance to keep the Sun Devil offense in motion and Brett Hundley can be highly successful with time and space to work with.

Keys to a Sun Devil Victory Hound Hundley

Johnathan Franklin is far too talented a runner to be expected to be shut down by ASU's defense—especially with Will Sutton likely out of action.

When the Bruins have the ball, the difference maker in terms of overall offensive success figures to be redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, a player ASU needs to persistently pressure to swing momentum ASU's way.

As immensely talented as he is, Hundley is prone to some typical freshman miscues and ASU needs to limit his opportunities as much as possible. However, the caveat in this scenario is Hundley's athleticism, so precision is a must when rushing the Bruins' quarterback as he can skate for quick yardage on the ground if given the opportunity.

Protect the House

UCLA likely will bring a great deal of pressure in an attempt to rattle Taylor Kelly into poor decisions. With that being a likely scenario, the Sun Devil front will have to stand firm and stand tall early and consistently to negate the Bruins' charges.

If ASU can keep the Bruin defenders out of Kelly's face, there undoubtedly will be receivers open in the intermediate pass game and the likes of Chris Coyle and Kevin Ozier can have a big day for the Devils to build upon.

Get the Duck Out

Last Thursday is over. It's gone. There was no #BLKOUTDUCK. Okay, life goes on. Players, coaches, fans, journalists…me, you…anyone who wishes well upon the Sun Devils has to bury it in the past. Of course, this is most important to the players. Last year, Sun Devil fans saw the negative repercussions of having overconfidence (ironically starting with ASU's game against the Bruins). This year, it is up to Coach Graham to prevent the Sun Devils from being sidetracked by negativity. Saturday will be a turning point either way for the Sun Devils and is an incredibly important game in the grand scheme of things. All frustration from last week's demolition has to be transformed into focused aggression that ASU exerts on the Bruins.

Familiar Faces • UCLA assistant coaches Noel Mazzone, Steve Broussard and Eric Yarber previous coached at ASU under Dennis Erickson.

• UCLA QB Brett Hundley (Chandler HS), OL Kody Innes (Scottsdale Saguaro HS), P Jeff Locke (Glendale Mountain Ridge HS) and RB Paul Perkins (Chandler HS) are all Arizona natives. ASU's Corey Adams, Danny Clark, D.J. Foster, Brock Haman, Kody Koebensky, Jordan McDonald and Max Smith also attended Saguaro High.

• UCLA DB Ishmael Adams and DL Cassius Marsh attended Westlake (Calif.) Oaks Christian High School, as did ASU TE Chris Coyle and LB Carlos Mendoza.

• UCLA WR Shaquelle Evans and TE Joseph Fauria attended Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame High School, as did ASU OL Tyler Sulka.

• UCLA CB Randall Goforth and S Stan McKay attended Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High School, as did ASU's Josiah Blandin, Salamo Fiso, Matthew Rowe and Richard Smith. Goforth was verbally committed to ASU for the majority of the 2011 season prior to switching to UCLA.

• UCLA WR Ricky Marvray attended Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School, as did ASU's Michael Eubank, Brandon Magee and Will Sutton.

• UCLA OL Torian White attended Lakewood (Calif) High School, as did ASU DB's Kevin Anderson and Rashad Wadood.

• UCLA LB Jordan Zumwalt's father, Rick, lettered in football at ASU in 1986 and '87 and was a member of the Sun Devils' 1987 Rose Bowl championship team. UCLA RB Paul Perkins' father, Bruce, lettered in football at ASU in 1988 and '89.


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