Arizona State defeated UCLA Saturday night in what was certainly an odd game. ASU entered the game more than a touchdown underdog playing against a top-flight passer in UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen with one of the worst pass defenses in the country. Add in ASU redshirt freshman quarterback Brady White making his first start, and the win was a big one for the Sun Devils' program.
The Sun Devil defense was able to make the Bruins one-dimensional as the game wore on which allowed them to get after the quarterback more. This allowed ASU to get five sacks and beat up Rosen all night, as he was knocked out the game on two different occasions.
UCLA attempted a pass on its last 27 plays and on 31 of its last 32 plays. It threw for 444 yards in the game but had -1 yards of rushing. UCLA’s offense had eleven explosive plays, eleven negative plays and a 29 percent successful play rate. Rosen was 24-for-43 with 400 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. His replacement Mike Fafaul was just 3-for-11 with two interceptions.
Junior college transfer Koron Crump made several keys plays in the game. In the third quarter he ran down UCLA running back Soso Jamabo at the ASU 4-yard line after a 66-yard gain. ASU held UCLA to a field goal, and those four points saved proved to be huge. He also knocked out Rosen for good late in the fourth quarter on a strip sack.
Crump finished the game with three tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass break up. He is the type of athlete that ASU needs to compete with teams like UCLA. He is far from a finished product like most first year JUCOs but if he can keep making impactful plays for ASU, he will tough to keep off the field.
Junior Marcus Ball made his first start at Bandit safety and played very well. He finished the game with a team-high ten tackles and an interception. It is too soon to say if he is the answer at Bandit because UCLA doesn’t possess the talent at the skill positions to truly judge but it was a good first start.
Sophomore Renell Wren continues to develop into an impact defender. ASU likes to use him inside as a pass rusher because of his length and push. We saw the Sun Devils drop him in coverage and he nearly made an interception.
ASU used sophomore Joseph Wicker at Devil backer more tonight than it had this year. We saw Wicker at Devil a lot in the preseason. Junior Tashon Smallwood moved outside to defensive end where he is not a natural fit but he handled himself well.
UCLA simply could not run the ball tonight against ASU. Considering how much discussion has gone into the recruiting efforts by the Sun Devils and Bruins along the offensive line is noteworthy. It is fair to say ASU has as good if not a better offensive line than UCLA despite the Bruins being consistently ranked higher in the recruiting rankings.
The status of sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr has to be huge concern for ASU after he went down with an apparent knee injury. He was seen on the sidelines riding the bike but never came back into the game. Orr is easily the best cornerback on the roster and losing him for any length of time would be huge blow to what is already one of the worst pass defenses in the country. Orr tweeted after the game he expects to be back on the practice field this week.
In this game, ASU cornerbacks played well but UCLA’s talent at receiver is not as good as the other Power Five teams ASU has played thus far and maybe not even as good as Northern Arizona's. Why UCLA did not use Ishmael Adams more in this game is puzzling, especially considering how big of a thorn he has been in ASU’s side.
Senior Laiu Moeakiola was the glue again tonight for ASU. He was credited with seven tackles and three pass break ups. He made plays all over the field. He is simply a much more valuable player when he plays the Spur.
For ASU’s offense the first start for White was a struggle at times. He completed 19-of-36 attempts for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He left the game with an apparent foot injury that head coach Todd Graham said did not look good afterwards.
Overall it was a bad performance by the ASU offense albeit against a good UCLA defense. It finished the game averaging just 3.8 yards per play with just six explosive plays, 15 first downs while having a 27 percent success rate. Following the same pattern as much of the season, ASU was much better in the second half. In the first half it had just one explosive play, four first downs and an 18 percent success rate.
For whatever reason, offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey did not have a game plan in the first half built around having a redshirt freshman starting his first game. White attempted 21 passes in the first half while running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage only combined for nine carries for 26 yards. In the second half they combined for 18 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Early on White looked solid. He was 5-of-7 to the start the game but really struggled in the second quarter, finishing the half completing eight of 21 attempts. It did not feel like Lindsey put his quarterback in a position to succeed in the first half. Whereas in the second half ASU decided to come out and use two tight end formations more to establish the run and take pressure off of White.
True freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole, once the fourth string quarterback, was thrust into emergency action in the fourth quarter of a one score game in the red zone. He did not fare well throwing an interception. ASU went with the Sparky formation on its final series of the game.
Lindsey showed a new wrinkle to the Sparky formation. ASU brought in true freshman Cohl Cabral for senior Evan Goodman and used an unbalanced line on more than one occasion. UCLA's defense for the most part handled the formation well. With the possibility of starting a true freshman quarterback next week at Colorado, we could be in store for a lot of the Sparky formation. At some point ASU will have to attempt a pass out of this formation and that could be something we see against the Buffaloes.
ASU's offensive line was solid in the game. This year’s edition of the ASU line through the first six games has not yielded the high sack totals that we have seen the first four years of Graham’s time at ASU. The Sun Devils ranked 108th in 2013 and 2014 and 109th last year in sacks allowed. They entered tonight ranked 75th and ASU only surrendered one sack in the game on 39 passing attempts.
The unit overall is the best since Graham arrived and they have depth for the first time since Bruce Snyder was coaching. Cabral, redshirt freshman Zach Robertson and redshirt freshman Steve Miller are three talented freshmen linemen who are backups. ASU still needs to recruit better to the tackle position but the group overall is in a much better position than it was four years ago.
ASU again won the special teams battle. Senior Zane Gonzalez broke the NCAA career record for field goals made in the game. He converted all three of his attempts and five of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks. In contrast, UCLA’s kicker J.J. Molson only made two out of his four field goals.
Punter Matt Haack was good in somewhat windy conditions. He had nine punts and a 44.1 average per punt, out-gaining his competition by almost eight yards a punt. ASU only allowed six yards on punt returns to UCLA’s 54. The hidden yardage in special teams continues to be one of the Sun Devils' greatest assets, especially at home.
In the end ASU moved to 5-1 and is now tied for first place in the Pac-12 South with Utah and Colorado. The Sun Devils have now defeated UCLA three out of the last four times they have faced the Bruins. ASU is now 25-6 at home under Graham. The Sun Devils have one of the better home-field advantages in the country over Graham's time with the program.
We are starting to see some of the inexperienced players emerge into established roles. The pass defense issues are still there and probably will be throughout the rest of this season but the program is position to have a good year and certainly a much better one than most predicted before the season.
For ASU to continue to overachieve it will first have to get healthy at quarterback. It's an educated guess but it is probably safe to assume that they would not have burned Sterling-Cole’s redshirt if they did not already have a good idea Wilkins would be out next week. It's not even inconceivable that we see Bryce Perkins under center this year.
On defense ASU needs continued development from players such as Crump, Wren and Ball. Getting Christian Sam back would help on defense. Junior college defensive back Maurice Chandler made his first start. If Orr is out he will have to step up since Orr often takes on the toughest opposing receiver.
Few people thought ASU would be 5-1 right now, even fewer thought next week’s game versus Colorado could determine the odds-on favorite in the Pac-12 South. At the halfway point of the season, it's safe to say the second half is probably going to give us even more surprises.