Know Your Foe: UCLA

There is no denying the enormous magnitude of Saturday's Arizona State-UCLA game, yet either team has been clicking on all cylinders in the last couple of weeks. What have been some of the bright spots and deficiencies for the Bruins, and how will that affect them against the Sun Devils?'s David Woods discusses ASU's next opponent.

At a current record of 8-2, 5-2 Pac-12 does UCLA's season to say deemed as a success or did you expect the Bruins to get over the hump and beat the likes of Stanford and Oregon?

Woods: I don't know that reasonable fans expected UCLA to beat the likes of Stanford and Oregon, but, generally, there was an expectation that the game would be competitive and UCLA would have a chance, particularly against Stanford. I think most reasonable people would say that the season is already bordering on successful at 8-2, especially given the number of injuries UCLA has suffered at key positions (each of its top three tackles sustaining potentially season ending injuries, four of the five running backs in the two deep being injured at one time or another).

If UCLA can get at least one more regular season win, I don't know that there is a fan who lives in some form of reality who will not say the season was successful, given that UCLA will have reached last season's win total while having played a much more difficult schedule.

What do view as the team's strengths and weaknesses on offense?

Woods: Right now, it's pretty clear that UCLA's main strength on offense is the one, the only, Myles Jack. Jack has re-energized UCLA's rushing attack, providing a credible running threat even against stacked boxes. His combination of power and speed makes him arguably the best running back on the team—and he's the starting outside linebacker. Brett Hundley, after a midseason lull, has returned to form to a certain extent, and UCLA has been able to connect on more downfield throws over the past few games.

The weaknesses are plenty. First, without Jack on the field, UCLA's offense can tend to stagnate, because there isn't a real running threat in the backfield. When teams don't see Jack in the game, they'll generally tee off on Hundley, forcing him to make quick decisions, which isn't his strength. The offensive scheme isn't designed for max protection, so if teams send six or seven rushers, they'll generally get at least one guy through, which disrupts Hundley's timing and, more often than not, forces him to run the ball.

What do you view as the team's strengths and weaknesses of the defense?

Woods: The linebacker corps is the obvious strength of the defense. UCLA's linebackers are extremely versatile, with each of the four starters having the ability to drop into coverage as well as play well in run support. Both Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks, on the inside, have the ability to play stout against the interior runs and also range to the outside to pick up swing passes and outside runs.

Anthony Barr has obviously earned tremendous accolades, but he's well-deserving, with the ability to get around offensive tackles with great quickness and strength. Jack, though, has turned the unit into a potentially elite one, with his ability to both shed blockers en route to a running back and also cover slot receivers. He allows UCLA to play out of its base personnel much more than it would be able to against the pass-happy teams in the Pac-12.

UCLA's weakness over the past couple of games has been its secondary. In man coverage, UCLA's cornerbacks, Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau, really struggled against Washington's receivers. Against ASU, with Jaelen Strong presenting a potential matchup problem for the diminutive Adams, the Bruins are going to have to hope to avoid that matchup. Otherwise, UCLA's defense has been good-to-very good this year, with the front seven being dominant at times.

Do you think the pressure in this game is on the Bruins since they are at home, or is being an underdog allows them to be looser for this contest?

Woods: It's difficult to say. UCLA would have to win out to win the Pac-12 South, while ASU simply has to win this game to guarantee that the Sun Devils win the south. What I'd be concerned about is a lull, given that UCLA just had an emotional high against Washington, and will have another one in two weeks against a suddenly resurgent USC teams. Sustaining that level of energy for three consecutive weeks is a very tall order. I think UCLA will obviously be primed for the matchup, particularly with an extra day off having played Washington last Friday, but, after Stanford and Oregon, this is probably the Bruins' toughest matchup of the season.

What are your keys to the game for both teams and score prediction?

Woods: I think UCLA needs to utilize Jack to an even greater extent on offense than they have used him previously. If that means taking him off of more plays on defense, then that may be what's necessary. Arizona State has the best defense UCLA has faced in at least three weeks, and a player like Jack can generate yards through contact, which will likely be necessary.

On defense, UCLA will need to find a way to contain Taylor Kelly to a pocket, limit his rollouts, and force him to beat the Bruins through the air. That'll obviously involve stopping ASU's potent running attack, but UCLA was more or less successful stopping Bishop Sankey and Washington's rushing offense last week. UCLA's defense versus ASU's offense could be a very interesting matchup.

The Sun Devils will likely need to generate significant pressure on Hundley. When Hundley is under fire, his effectiveness is drastically reduced and, while it may sound peculiar, if ASU can force him to be more of a runner, it'll likely be in pretty good shape. Offensively, Kelly will have to play a very sound game, since UCLA is going to make every effort to put the game in his hands.

Right now, given the injuries that UCLA has dealt with, and the likelihood that UCLA just won't be able to sustain four straight weeks of emotional highs, I think ASU will pull out the win in Pasadena 28-24.

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