Preview of Arizona State

Arizona State is probably the best team in the nation with a losing record, and will present some tough match-ups for the struggling Bruins on both sides of the ball Friday in Tempe...

FACTS AND FACTORS

-- UCLA travels to Tempe to take on Arizona State Thursday at 12:30 PST, in a game televised on FSN, with Barry Thompkins and Petros Papadakis calling the action.

-- Both teams are 4-6 and 2-5 in th Pac-10.

-- UCLA leads in the all-time series, 16-9-1, with the teams having split the last four meetings. UCLA won last year in the Rose Bowl, 23-13.

-- If you look at common opponents, UCLA generally doesn't hold up well. UCLA lost to Washington last week in Seattle, 24-7, while the Sun Devils beat the Huskies in Seattle, 24-14. ASU played Oregon tight, losing 42-31, while the Bruins were blown out, 60-13. Both teams played Stanford at their respective home stadiums; UCLA got blown out, 35-0, while ASU, just last week, lost 17-13. Both teams were blown out at Cal. UCLA did beat Oregon State while ASU lost to the Beavers, but the Sun Devils lost on the road in Corvallis.

-- UCLA is 1-4 in Tempe since 1995.

-- As it was last week in Washington for the Huskies, it's senior day for ASU, with the 13 Sun Devil seniors playing their last game in Sun Devil Stadium.

-- ASU started just two seniors against Stanford in its last game two weeks ago.

-- Arizona State is coming off a bye week, as was Washington and Oregon when UCLA faced them on the road.

-- ASU is coached by Dennis Erickson, in his fourth year there, with a record of 23-24. In his first year (2007), he went 10-3, shared the Pac-10 championship and was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year, the first ever to win the award at three different Pac-10 schools. . Since then he's gone 5-7 and 4-8, and is currently 4-6. The two losing seasons in 2008 and 2009 were ASU's first back-to-back losing seasons in 50 years. He has beaten only one ranked opponent while he's been at ASU (#21 Cal in 2007, and they fell out of the rankings pretty quickly after that). Ericksonk, after his offense looked so dismal a season ago, fired his offensive coordinator and went to a spread offense under new coordinator Noel Mazzone. He is a bit on the hot seat, but it's not blazingly hot since it's routinely acknowledged that he has a very young and promising team in 2010.

-- ASU, even though it has 4 wins and two games remaining like UCLA, has almost no chance of making a bowl game. Two of ASU's wins came against Portland State and Northern Arizona, two FCS teams, and they don't count as a FBS win. When populating the bowls, teams with 6 wins over FBS teams have priority, so ASU could only get to a bowl if it wins its last two games, and there are then not enough 6-win teams available. The thing is, though, there are 70 bowl spots open and, as of right now, there are 64 bowl-eligible teams, with 21 still able to get eligible.

-- Friday's weather in Tempe calls for a high of 66 degrees and sunny skies.

ARIZONA STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

ASU's offense is a good, balanced unit, ranked #38 in the nation, with the nation's #18-ranked passing offense.

The Sun Devils, after being ranked 90th in the nation a year ago in total offense, went to the spread this season, and it's been successful, providing a considerable boost to the ASU passing game.

It also has helped that junior Steven Threet (6-5, 240) has developed into a very good quarterback. Threet is passing for an average of 253 yards per game, which is second in the Pac-10. He has thrown the most interceptions in the conference (16), and it's been his bugaboo this season (his four picks in the redzone against Oregon probably cost them the game), but he makes up for it by completing 62% of his passes. He's a big, NFL-type quarterback with a strong, accurate arm, especially efficient at executing ASU's short, quick passing game.
Running back Cameron Marshall.


Senior wide receiver Kerry Taylor (6-0, 200) has been a huge key, stepping up this season to lead the team in receptions (42) and receiving yards (519). But the ASU offense likes to spread the honey to many different receivers, with six players having more than 20 receptions. In its spread, ASU doesn't really utilize a tight end much – perhaps you could call Mike Willie (6-4, 220) the closest thing, who is ASU's second-leading receiver with 33 catches – but likes to get 3, 4 and sometimes 5 quicker receiver types out in the pattern.

The biggest question on offense going into the season was the offensive line, but it's done surprisingly well, given that it's made up of only one returning starter from last season and not one senior. The key has been no injuries and continuity, with the same starters playing in 7 consecutive games, led by junior center Garth Gerhart (6-1, 301). One to watch is redshirt freshman left tackle Evan Finkenberg (6-6, 290).
The OL has given up a good amount of sacks on the season (24), and Threet is usually under a good amount of pressure, but the ASU offensive coaching staff doesn't flinch, and continues to try to put Threet in a position to make plays.

Sophomore running back Cameron Marshall (5-11, 217) immediately stepped into the starter's role at the beginning of the season and proved to be a threat. He's only averaging 57 yards per game, but that's because he's only averaging about 10 carries per game. He does average 5.2 yards per carry, which is more than that of UCLA's Jonathan Franklin (5.1) and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers (4.7). Marshall is a tough ball carrier to bring down, with a compact body and some explosiveness. Freshman Deantre Lewis (5-10, 189) is the scat-back to Marshall's power, and the two make for a nice one-two punch, with Lewis averaging 6.0 yards per carry and nearly as many yards per game (52).
Tony Dye.


UCLA's defense will be challenged against ASU's efficient offense, especially if it has a performance like last week's against Washington, in which it gave up 253 yards rushing. Once Washington sniffed out UCLA's weaknesses against the run, it exploited it, and you could easily make a case that Arizona State's running game is as good as Washington's.

The difference will be that Arizona State's strength is passing the ball and, while UCLA's passing defense looks good statistically (3rd in Pac-10, giving up 198 yards per game), we all know it's a bit skewed since opposing offenses find a great deal of success on the ground against UCLA so there's really no reason to pass much. UCLA's secondary will definitely be challenged, with ASU receivers coming from every different direction. Perhaps a positive is that UCLA will go to its nickel for most of the game, which it's actually performed fairly well in all season. While there has been inconsistency from the other three starting spots in the secondary, strong safety Tony Dye has been the most consistent force in the back.

UCLA's front seven, though, definitely looked back on its heels against Washington last week. The defensive tackles resorted to dancing around like they did earlier in the season instead of holding up their blocker, and that made for UCLA's linebackers to spend the day chasing down ball carriers who were running through big holes.

Advantage: Arizona State. UCLA has also struggled with no-huddle, quick-snapping teams, and that's what ASU is doing this year. They snap the ball quickly, and then Threet gets the ball off quickly, in a very efficient short passing game that then uses its other receivers to block efficiently and create yards after the catch. It does tend to throw horizontally quite a bit. Then, the Sun Devils will test you with a number of deep balls throughout the game.

Since the team is 4-6 the ASU offense hasn't gotten as much pub as other offenses in the conference. But the Sun Devils' offense should be considered in the same light as the offenses of Arizona or Stanford. This is a team that outgained Oregon, the nation's #1 offense, in just about every offensive category in their matchup.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. ARIZONA STATE'S DEFENSE

ASU's defense is one of the best in the conference, and it's doing it basically by shutting down the running game of opposing teams.

The Sun Devils allow just 119 yards per game on the ground, which is 18th in the nation.

The strength of its defense is in its front seven, which is quick and athletic. Junior defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (6-5, 300) has NFL written all over him. Junior defensive end James Brooks (6-5, 272) is a tough, physical match-up, who gets into offensive backfields quite often.
Vontaze Burfict.


The ASU linebackers might be the most talented among any linebacker unit in the conference. Sophomore middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict (6-3, 245) is the headliner, and immensely talented, while always trying to keep his temper under control and limit the number of personal fouls he commits. While Burfict gets much of the pub, junior Will ‘backer Brandon Magee (5-11, 230) is getting a good amount of tackles himself, as is the first linebacker off the bench, Colin Parker (6-1, 228).

If there's some vulnerability in ASU's defense it's been in their pass coverage, allowing 235 yards per game. The problem primarily has been a lack of consistent pass rush, which has put the secondary under pressure. While ASU was an inexperienced team coming into the season, it was particularly so in its defensive secondary, having to replace all four starters from a season ago. Lately the brightest spot has been the play of junior Omar Bolden (5-10, 195), who has three interceptions on the season and, after a mid-season slump, is playing very well. He had a dazzling 66-yard pick-six against USC.
Richard Brehaut.


UCLA's offense was a mess last week against Washington, in just about every facet. After it started off the game strong running the ball, it got predictable and Washington pounced. Losing quarterback Richard Brehaut to a concussion was key in that game, and Brehaut is going through the concussion protocol this week and is expected to be fine by Friday. But even before the concussion, Brehaut wasn't sharp against the Huskies. With the UCLA running game more than likely having a tough time against ASU's superior front seven, it's critical for UCLA to be able to throw the ball if its offense has a chance to be successful.

Advantage: Arizona State. ASU has a very good defense, with some NFL types flying around making plays. It's clearly going to make a point of stopping UCLA's running game, and whether UCLA's offense can be effective will almost certainly be determined whether it can pass the ball.

The one thing UCLA has going for it in the passing game is that ASU doesn't mount much of a pass rush, which is good news for an offensive line that has struggled in pass blocking all year. ASU lost defensive end Dexter Davis to graduation last season and hasn't found anyone who can replace him this season. Junior d-end Jamarr Jarrett (6-5, 260) is the biggest pass-rushing threat with 4.5 sacks on the season, but the Sun Devils are averaging just two sacks per game. If there was a bright spot last week against Washington offensively for UCLA it might have been that UCLA actually provided its quarterbacks enough time to throw.

The UCLA offense, however, is getting more and more conservative as the season progresses, seemingly. As opposed to an offense like ASU's, where it doesn't play scared as soon as its quarterback throws an interception, UCLA's offensive play-calling is predictable and easily defensible. Last week against Washington, UCLA came out dominant against Washington's defense, but the U-Dub defensive coaches made some adjustments, particularly stacking the box to stop UCLA's running game, and the Bruin offensive brain trust had no counter.

ASU's defense is much better than Washington's, and it's particularly better at stopping the run, which is UCLA's offensive strength. You can bet that UCLA conservatively will keep running the ball tackle to tackle, and ASU's defense will adjust and shut it down. The question will be whether UCLA will have an answer in its passing game.

SPECIAL TEAMS

ASU has had some very good special teams play, and then some very bad special teams play, too. While they've returned three punts or kick-offs for touchdowns this year (and returned one for 95 yards but not a touchdown), and rank #2 in the nation for kick-off returns, they've had punts and field goals blocked. The one missed, 42-yard field goal against USC almost certainly cost them the game. ASU's best kick-off returner, Kyle Middlebrooks, is out for the game.

The Sun Devils' punter, Trevor Hankins, is among the best in the nation, averaging 45.5 yards per kick. Place-kicker Thomas Weber has been very inconsistent, and is only 2 for 6 from beyond 40 yards.

Advantage: Even

PREDICTION

Because of the match-ups, UCLA's best chance in this game is to depart from the game plan it's had all season – and that would mean to aggressively throw the ball on offense, and on defense send a lot of pressure at Threet to force him into mistakes.

But the chances of that happening are remote. UCLA has shown no inkling that it would get out of its conservative groove anytime during the season, and has tended to get more locked into it as the season progresses. It's playing not to lose at this point, hoping it can steal some wins late in the season.

And it's playing against perhaps the best team in the country with a losing record. The Sun Devils are 4-6, but they are just a few plays away from being 9-1 on the season. They've played three ranked teams -- Wisconsin, Oregon and Stanford – and lost by a combined 16 points. If not for a muffed field goal here, one bad interception or an incorrect face mask call there, and ASU could very easily be 9-1.

The match-ups aren't good for UCLA. ASU's defensive strength is shutting down the run. UCLA would need a great performance out of its unproven quarterback who is coming off a bad performance and a concussion. And it would have to depart from its conservative M.O. and throw the ball more often. ASU has one of the best throwing offenses in the nation, so it will be able to throw and then also get its solid running game going against a UCLA team that has struggled against the run.

Except for the win over the vastly over-rated Texas Longhorns, UCLA has been horrendous on the road this season. In its Pac-10 road games, it's been out-scored 119-27.

UCLA winning this game would be a complete surprise.

Arizona State 30
UCLA 13



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