-- The Arizona State Sun Devils come to Pasadena to take on UCLA Saturday at 4:30. The game is being televised by Versus, with Ted Robinson, Glenn Parker and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila the announcing team.
-- Arizona State is 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-12 South (1st).
-- The Sun Devils are ranked 20th in the AP Poll, 18th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 19th in the BCS Standings.
-- UCLA is 4-4 overall and 3-2 in conference play.
-- UCLA leads the all-time series between the two schools, 16-10-1, which dates back to 1976. UCLA has an edge in games played in the Rose Bowl, 8-5-1, where the Bruins have won four of the last five meetings.
00 Last year in Tempe, the Sun Devils trounced UCLA, 55-34. It was a strange game, with UCLA jumping out to a 17-0 lead, only to allow ASU to rattle off the next 21 straight points, and overwhelmed the Bruins in the second half. UCLA quarterback Richard Brehaut recorded school records in completions (33) and passing attempts (56) for a single game, and threw for a personal best 321 yards.
-- Saturday's game is significant in terms of the conference standings. In the Pac-12 South, ASU is in first at 4-1, and UCLA and USC are tied at 3-2. No one else is close, with Utah at 1-4, Arizona at 1-5 and Colorado at 0-5. With USC ineligible for post-season play, that means this game would determine whether UCLA could get a piece of the Pac-12 South lead with a win.
-- Arizona State is favored by 13.5 points.
-- But then again, Cal was favored by 4.5 points last week, and UCLA pretty much dominated the Bears, beating them, 31-14.
-- Last week, the Sun Devils jumped all over Colorado, beating them 48-14.
-- Dennis Erickson is in his 5th year in Tempe, and his 22nd season overall as a collegiate head coach. The 64-year old is 31-26 at ASU and 179-91-1 overall, and that puts him 7th on the active career coaching list for victories. He won two national championships while coaching Miami, in 1989 and 1991. He has coached three Pac-10(12) teams, Washington State (1987-88), Oregon State (1999-02) and ASU. He replaced Dirk Koetter as ASU's head coach for the 2007 season and led the Sun Devils to one of their most successful seasons in recent history, going 10-3, getting a tie for the Pac-10 championship, a Holiday Bowl berth and a final ranking of 13th/16th. Erickson, subsequently, though, has been mediocre, going 15-21 over the course of the next three seasons to get put on the hot seat coming into the current season. He has pretty clearly removed himself from it with ASU's success so far in 2011.
-- With ASU's win over Colorado last week, ASU is now bowl eligible for the first time since 2007. Last year, ASU won 6 games but two came against FCS schools, meaning only one of the wins counted towards bowl eligibility.
-- Erickson is 6-3 all-time against UCLA, including a 3-1 mark with Arizona State.
-- It's painful for Bruin fans to remember, but Erickson's first-ever meeting with the Bruins came in 1988 when he was coaching Washington State, and led his Cougar squad into the Rose Bowl and shocked the then #1-ranked Bruins, 34-30.
-- Rick Neuheisel is 1-2 against Arizona State as UCLA's head coach.
-- Of course, as everyone who hasn't been living in a cave for the last month knows, Neuheisel is on his very own very toasty seat at the moment. There was a distinct possibility Neuheisel could be let go after UCLA's Debacle in the Desert against Arizona October 20th, but he got a reprieve when the Bruins played their best game of the season last Saturday in beating Cal. Among UCLA insider circles, it's known that Neuheisel is still almost certainly destined to be let go this season. There is an outside chance he could be retained, but he would more than likely have to win out, which would include a win this weekend against ASU, wins against Colorado, Utah and USC, and put in at least a very competitive performance in the Pac-12 championship game against either Stanford or Oregon.
-- Some interesting stats from last week's game against Cal:
*UCLA's 52 rushing attempts tied for the most by a Pac-12 team this season
*The four Bruin interceptions tied ASU (v. Oregon State) for the most in a conference game this season
*Kevin Prince's 163 yards rushing was the 10th highest mark by a Pac-12 player this season, and the best by any conference quarterback
*Derrick Coleman's three touchdowns upped his season total to 9, which is the most by a Bruin since Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 20 in 2005.
-- UCLA has alternated losing and winning games every week this season. It recalls a similar season, in 1990, when Terry Donahue did the same for the entire season, ending with a 5-6 mark.
-- UCLA's current 4-4 record is the best record Neuheisel has posted as UCLA's coach heading into November. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, Neuheisel's teams were 3-5 at the end of October.
-- UCLA gets back 4 of the 5 players that were suspended last week because of the altercation against Arizona: Receivers Taylor Embree, Randall Carroll, and Shaquelle Evans. Offensive guard Albert Cid was suspended for just the first half of the Cal game. defensive tackle Cassius Marsh is still suspended for this game.
-- The 2011 Sun Devils feature one of the largest senior classes in the nation, with 26 seniors on the roster.
-- Erickson has played 27 true freshmen in his five seasons at ASU, but only three this season.
-- The weather forecast calls for a bit chilly conditions, at least for Pasadena, with a high of 61 degrees for the day.
ARIZONA STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
Picture Arizona's offense but better.
Perhaps ASU doesn't throw the ball quite on the level of Arizona, but it's not a lot less effective, and it runs the ball better and similarly utilizes the hurry-up spread. Statistically they're pretty close, with Arizona gaining 465 yards per game and ASU 438, for 3rd and 4th in the conference. ASU, though, does put up more points than Arizona, 36 to 30 per game, which is a scary proposition since Arizona put up 48 on the Bruins.
Like Arizona relying on quarterback Nick Foles, ASU has their counterpart in Brock Osweiler (JR, 6-8, 240). Osweiler has really been the story of the ASU season, going from being somewhat of a question mark last season when he kind of inherited the position when Steven Threet retired from football because of concussive symptoms to now being one of the legitimately best quarterbacks in the quarterback-laden Pac-12. He definitely is just that statistically, third in the conference in passing yards per game (284) and 30th in the country in passing efficiency (146). He's completing 66% of his passes for 2,275 yards, 17 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
But looking beyond the stats, Osweiler is responsible in so many other ways for Arizona's successful season thus far. He worked hard in the off-season to get better, and it's very evident in his mechanics and decision-making, and he's also stepped up to become the clear team leader. This Sun Devil team is his team. And it's paying off for him in many ways, not only with a successful season but with Osweiler now being considered pro potential. It's pretty remarkable if you consider he had verbally committed to Gonzaga to play basketball while in high school, but then re-considered and decided to dedicate himself to football.
Osweiler is throwing the ball very well, with zip and accuracy. His footwork has improved to the point that he seldom throws a bad ball, or is caught off-balance like he was last season. You can see he now has a mastery of the ASU offense, too. And then, on top of throwing the ball so well, the 6-8 athlete is actually pretty mobile for his size, being a threat to scramble.
For an offense that has had a bit of adversity, with injuries and other issues, Osweiler's efficiency, consistency and leadership has made the difference in 2011.
The other most consistent aspect of the ASU offense is its veteran offensive line. The Sun Devils start 4 seniors and one junior, and really have had only one significant injury this season. Center Garth Gerhart (SR, 6-1, 300) leads the group, and it appears they're getting back that former starter from his injury, left tackle Evan Finkenberg (SO, 6-6, 292). Dan Knapp (SR, 6-5, 277) has been solid filling in for him and it appears Knapp will move over to right tackle.
So, with a strong offensive line providing good pass protection, and a quarterback who's coming into his own, throw in a good array of receivers and you have a very potent passing attack. Gerell Robinson (SR, 6-4, 222) had been inconsistent in the past but he's been a stud in his senior season, being co-leader in receptions (36) and leading in receiving yards (617). There is Aaron Plugrad (SR, 5-10, 180), the solid possession receiver who transferred from Oregon, and Mike Willie (SR, 6-4, 220), both of whom are consistent targets.
The guy, though, that has made a huge impact is the F-back, Jamal Miles (JR, 5-10, 183). Miles is kind of Mr. Everything for ASU this season, tied for lead in receptions on the team (36), while being second in rushing yardage (200), averaging 8.4 yards per carry. He's the only player in the nation to have scored a touchdown on a reception, kickoff return, and punt return as well as thrown a touchdown pass. He pretty much is responsible for a touchdown once in every 10 times he touches the ball. He's the guy Osweiler likes to hit in those famous ASU swing passes out of the backfield, but they also have thrown to him down the field. ASU observers think that in the Sun Devils' two losses this season Miles didn't touch the ball enough.
ASU is more two-dimensional than Arizona, though, because it has a very respectable rushing game to complement its passing attack, averaging 144 yards per game. Running back Cameron Marshall (JR., 5-11, 223) has been nicked up a bit this season, but looked healthy last week against Colorado. He's averaging 79 yards per game, and has a nose for the endzone, scoring 12 touchdowns so far this season. ASU has been without Deantre Lewis all season, with him redshirting after being shot in the off-season, and they do miss his big-play capability. Kyle Middlebrooks (SO, 5-8, 175) has picked up the slack a bit, and he's the smaller, more elusive alternative to Marshall.
UCLA's defense played a bit out-of-character last week, and it resulted in its best performance of the season. It not only utilized personnel differently, but played a bit more aggressively in terms of pressing Cal's receivers.
Even though UCLA gave up 134 yards rushing, it still was probably its best effort against the run in any game this season. With Cassius Marsh suspended, defensive end Datone Jones moved inside to the three-technique spot and was the force he looked like he'd be in fall camp, getting his career-high 6 tackles, and two sacks. He looked far better suited at the position. Marsh is suspended for a second straight week, so we expect to see Jones take the vast majority of his snaps at DT. UCLA then utilized smaller, quicker players at defensive end, too, like Keenan Graham and Aramide Olaniyan, the 6-1, 215 pound linebacker. With the added quickness, it enabled UCLA to actually mount a decent pass rush without blitzing, and to get into the backfield against the run.
The talented redshirt freshman Eric Kendricks has finally overtaken Sean Westgate at the weakside linebacker spot. Jordan Zumwalt continues to improve week by week.
So, those two units showed considerable improvement last week against Cal.
The secondary, too, played better, with the McSafeties, Stan McKay and Tevin McDonald. McKay wasn't even in the two-deep at the beginning of the season, but he has played some of the best ball of the season at safety over the last two weeks. McDonald, of course, looked like he was channeling Rahim Moore last week, picking off three Cal passes by being in the right place at the right time. There's also Andrew Abbott, who has perhaps been UCLA's most consistent defender, doing time at cornerback and nickel back.
Advantage: Arizona State.
ASU's offense has been consistently good every week this season, even in their two losses. UCLA's defense has been mostly bad, and then stepped out of character last week against Cal.
We have to play the odds and believe that ASU's offense will play to form, and UCLA's defense will probably return to it.
There are some other factors that support Arizona State's offense getting the best of UCLA's defense. ASU employs the no-huddle, and UCLA has struggled profusely against it this season, sometimes unable to get the right call and personnel on the field and get set it time. It, too, just seems to generally disorient UCLA's defenders, creating more missed assignments and poor tackling. ASU also won't be surprised by Jones or Olaniyan this week. You'd like to hope that UCLA would employ a few more surprises this week to keep ASU guessing, but we're a bit doubtful.
ASU will spread the field with its passing game, passing laterally almost as much as it does vertically. Last season that lateral pass was an adventure, but the Sun Devils have honed it this season, and it's become a very effective play.
Bottom line, we can't see Osweiler having the type of game that Cal's Maynard did last week, but more along the lines of a Foles-type game.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. ARIZONA STATE'S DEFENSE
After last season, it wasn't a big stretch to believe that ASU would have the best defense in the conference for 2011. But a few things happened on the way to the field this fall, like an ACL tear, a player leaving unexpectedly for the NFL, another just leaving the team, and a few more injuries. ASU has lost at least four projected starters, but miraculously has kept it together, mostly because of the talent depth and players stepping up.
Last spring, defensive tackle Lawrence Guy surprised everyone and put his name in the NFL draft. Then, the one other returning starter on the defensive line was supposed to be defensive end James Brooks, but he unexpectedly left the school going into fall camp. Then, another projected starter, defensive end Junior Onyeali (SO, 5-11, 245), went down for five weeks this season with a knee injury. The Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2010, Onyeali returned last week to limited action, but is expected to play more this week against UCLA. A few guys have stepped up given an opportunity, namely defensive ends Jamaar Jarrett (SR, 6-5, 260) and Ohio State transfer Davon Coleman (SO, 6-3, 250), who have 8 tackles for loss between the two of them. Defensive tackle Willie Sutton (SO, 6-2, 285) sat all of last season because of injury but has returned in 2011 and been a disruptive force in the middle, with 4.5 tackles for loss himself. The other DT, Bo Moos (SR, 6-0, 286), has been solid alongside Sutton. Moos and Sutton are a bit undersized (their listed heights might be a bit exaggerated) but they're athletic and have a high motor.
The linebacker story at ASU for the last few years has been about Vontaze Burfict (JR, 6-3, 252). The hot-headed but talented player has always seemed to get as many personal fouls as tackles for loss. This season, though, he's been trying to make an effort to keep the personal fouls to a minimum, and it probably has affected his play a bit, making him a bit less aggressive, even though he still leads ASU in tackles for loss (6) and sacks (4).
|Linebacker Colin Parker.|
Perhaps the biggest story for ASU's defense has been the emergence of Will linebacker Colin Parker (SR, 6-1, 228), who only got the starting job because projected star Brandon Magee has been out all season with an Achilles injury. Parker has been a revelation, and ASU's best linebacker, leading the team with 49 tackles and being all over the field. Shelly Lyons (SR, 6-2, 230), the Sam ‘backer, has also been very good.
Omar Bolden was considered one of the best cornerbacks in the conference, but he's missed the entire season because of an ACL. Two young corners have, though, stepped up – Deveron Carr (JR, 5-11, 193) and Osahon Irabor (SO, 5-11, 180) -- and Alden Darby (SO, 5-10, 180) has been very good as the nickel back, being ballhawkish in claiming three interceptions. Carr, though, suffered a concussion and has yet to be cleared to play this week. The secondary is anchored by veteran safety Eddie Elder (SR, 5-10, 186), who had a career game against the Bruins last season, and Clint Floyd (SR, 5-10, 198), who has three picks this year.
What's been very evident about ASU's defense is, while it's lost some guys, they have a good amount of talented depth, at DL, LB and in the secondary. When a guy has gone down, the next guy has stepped up and done seemingly as well.
UCLA's offense was very Pistol-like last week against Cal, with quarterback Kevin Prince running for 163 yards. Cal's defense must have nightmares of the Pistol offense, with Nevada utilizing it to destroy the Bears in 2010, and then UCLA doing well with it last Saturday.
It will be interesting to see if UCLA and Prince will be as effective this week against ASU's defense.
Prince will get much of his receiver group back after being suspended last weekend – Taylor Embree, Randall Carroll and Shaquelle Evans. Even though it didn't seem like their absence made that big of a difference on the field last Saturday against Cal, it did impact UCLA's game plan, limiting the Bruins' passing attack, which is already fairly limited to begin with.
We have a feeling that we could see tailback Derrick Coleman get more carries than usual this week, since he seemingly has been getting stronger as the season has progressed.
UCLA has yet to really utilize many of its playmakers to their potential – guys like 6-8 tight end Joseph Fauria, and elusive F-back Jordon James.
Advantage: Arizona State.
If this game were a week ago this advantage wouldn't even be in question. But UCLA showed some offensive capability last week against Cal that was impressive – mostly because it ran the ball so successfully in a game when the opposition had to completely realize UCLA was going to run the ball. We don't know whether to attribute UCLA's success in doing that mostly to Cal's ineptness or the fact that UCLA is actually just so good at running the zone read now that it can be successful at it when everyone in the stadium knows what they're going to do. So, the advantage is still there for Arizona State, but it's narrower after UCLA's offensive performance last week.
We have to believe, though, that Arizona State's run defense is going to be very well prepared for UCLA's zone read after watching what it did to Cal's defense. I'd be considerably surprised if Prince had as much open field in front of him like last week. According to reports, the Arizona State's defensive players have taken particular notice and are comparing UCLA's offense to (gulp) Oregon's.
ASU's D has been a bend-and-not-break type itself this season, giving up good chunks of yardage but keeping other teams out of the end zone. It's sixth in total defense in the conference for yards allowed per game (381) but 4th in points allowed per game (21.5). UCLA isn't necessarily good at putting points on the board (24.8 points per game) or converting in the redzone, and ASU has one of the best redzone defenses in the conference. This indicates that UCLA could rack up a good amount of yardage but not necessarily translate it to points, and at the end of the game points count more than yards.
UCLA had one of the best performances ever by a punter last week, when Jeff Locke boomed some punts after getting popped and having his shoulder considerably sprained.
UCLA walk-on placekicker Tyler Gonzalez has gained confidence – and range – in the last few weeks in practice, but UCLA seems a bit afraid to have him attempt anything longer than 45 yards.
ASU's punter and kicker are serviceable. Placekicker Alex Garoutte (FR, 6-1, 190) started off the season a bit shaky but has settled down. Punter Josh Hubner (JR, 6-4, 230) isn't spectacular but gets the job done.
Where ASU has a clear advantage in special teams is in their punt and kickoff returns. Jamal Miles leads the conference in punt returns, averaging 16 yards per return, and has already busted one for a touchdown. He's also scored on a kick-off return. Kyle Middlebrooks is just as dangerous on kick-off returns.
In these previews we should probably just throw out so much of this and focus on turnovers. Most of the time turnovers determine the outcome of a game, and that's one reason why ASU is 6-2 this season. They are 5th in the country in turnover margin, at +12. I don't know what's more impressive, ASU's defense having caused 12 fumbles or collecting 13 interceptions. Comparatively to UCLA, ASU has given up one less turnover (13 to 14), but has gained 25 turnovers to UCLA's 14. Pretty much Arizona State is an artist at creating turnovers.
There are some other factors that are big contributors to ASU's success. Being a veteran team that is well-disciplined, they are the least penalized squad in the conference, and just as important, they elicit the most penalties out of their opponent than any other team in the conference. This is a huge factor, gaining big chunks of yards by drawing penalties while giving up so few by committing them. The ASU offense is very good at sustaining drives through opposing defenses' penalties and then, on the flip side, its defense is adept at utilizing opponents' penalties to help shut down drives.
The thing, too, about UCLA's tactic to run the ball, keep possession, and to keep the other team's offense off the field: it hasn't really worked. UCLA is second-to-last in the conference in time of possession.
When you're talking intangibles, Arizona State has to have an edge. This isn't Cal last week, who weren't really playing for anything. The Sun Devils feel like they're playing to clinch the Pac-12 South title, even though mathematically a win wouldn't do that. They are saying things like, "This is for all the marbles." There are many, many ASU players from Southern California who will be hyped to play in front of their families and friends at the Rose Bowl – to "clinch" the Pac-12 South.
UCLA showed some fight last week against Cal. Well, comparatively to the Bears, who looked dead on the sideline compared to the hyped-up Bruins. But it would be completely bizarre if ASU wasn't pumped for this game.
At Utah, Arizona State put up 35 points three weeks ago against the Utes, who are second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 20 points per game. That was, again, on the road, in semi-cold weather at a high elevation. Now, ASU comes to the perfect conditions of the Rose Bowl, facing a defense that allows an average of 32 points per game. Even if we factor in that UCLA's defense had a kind of revelation against Cal last week, you still have to consider that ASU's no-huddle is very good at discombobulating defenses, and UCLA's D is very discombobulatable. Throw in a defense that consistently creates turnovers probably limiting UCLA's chances to score and you just can't go against the Sun Devils. If UCLA plays a pretty error-free game it could hang in, but if both teams play cleanly ASU's offense will undoubtedly put up more points against UCLA's defense than UCLA's O will against ASU's D.
Arizona State 38