Viewing Guide: What to watch in ASU-UCLA matchup

Here are the five things we'll be watching most closely in Arizona State's game against UCLA Saturday at 4:30 p.m. on Fox at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

1. Which team will do a better job of establishing the run? UCLA running back Paul Perkins is averaging 128.5 rushing yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry in UCLA's 4-0 start. Working behind an improved offensive line, Perkins isn't a speedster but is tough and physical, breaking a lot of tackles and he has good short area quickness. When the Bruins are able to get their run game going with Perkins between the tackles, it opens up opportunities in their West Coast offense to spread the ball around via their passing game laterally. Since UCLA doesn't have a big playmaking type of offense vertically, it needs to force opponents into the conundrum of stopping inside run but also figuring out how to defend the full width of the field near the line of scrimmage. For ASU, it isn't executing at a high enough level offensively to win against a Top-10 team unless it is able to get sophomore Demario Richard a lot of carries and success as a means of releasing the pressure value off senior quarterback Mike Bercovici and a receiving corps that just isn't ready to have the game put upon its shoulders. UCLA's rushing defense is last in the league, giving up 198 yards per game. ASU has to exploit that in a major way in this game. 

2. Which team will be able to impact the opposing quarterback more? UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has been relatively unflappable for a true freshman at the position, and has rare potentail. But he's been just okay in several games this year, including a narrow win over BYU at home two weeks ago. Rosen has thrown four interceptions already this season and the Sun Devils have one and only one approach when it comes to pocket passers: do everything in their power to make him uncomfortable and force bad decisions. We haven't seen ASU's defefense generate as many turnovers as it typically has in recent years, nor as it had the ability to impact the quarterback with a four-man rush. Those are the things ASU needs to be able to accomplish to put its offense in more advantageous situations so it can score the ball more easily. Led by hybrid defensive end Deon Hollins, UCLA has a better speed rush capability than any of the team's ASU's faced to this point other than Texas A&M. This is going to be a game in which ASU's offensive tackles are again severely tested on the road. They have to do better, and so does ASU's pass rush. 

3. Offensive execution has to be improved by ASU. There have been many times in ASU's 2-2 start that offensive coordinator Mike Norvell had a play call on that should have worked but assignment errors, physical miscues and players who simply aren't performing at a high enough level have prevented a successful execution. Part of the solution is Norvell dumbing things down to some degree, but also players just need to execute what they're asked to do at a higher level. This includes but isn't limited to receivers and tight ends running precise routes and catching the football, running backs taking the ball where it is designed to go in the play scheme, and Bercovici taking what's given, whether it's a zone read run that's wide open, or scanning the field through the proper progression to find the open target. If ASU can't do this better on the road at UCLA, it almost won't matter what happens unless its defense generates a significant turnover differential. 

4. Who will take better care of the football? ASU was a Pac-12 best plus-29 in turnover margin in the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined, and yet through three games this season, is minus-3 in the category, which is tied for worst in the league. That has to change and it has to change immediately for ASU to have a chance to win against UCLA and against any comparable foe the rest of this season. The Sun Devils have lost seven fumbles already this year, which is three more than they lost in the entire season last year. Part of this, we have to believe, is a fluke bit of bad luck. But there must also be some element of decreased ball security habits that have contributed. It really hasn't been Bercovici to this point, as he has just two interceptions, though he too must hold onto the football as he's put it on the turf a handful of times already. 

5. Will ASU be able to much better handle its second road environment? A hostile crowd in Houston kept ASU from communicating effectively on offense against Texas A&M and Bercovici and senior center Nick Kelly were tipping the snaps, giving the Aggies potent pass rushers an advantage. ASU's changed its snapping proces since then, but it has to function as seamlessly on the road as it has at home, coupled with no turning the football over, if it can be expected to be in the game with a chance to win it in the foruth quarter at the Rose Bowl. 


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