NOTEWORTHY FACTORS-- UCLA starting quarterback Cory Paus has been demoted to third string and will only play if Scott McEwan and Ryan McCann are injured and can't play.
-- ASU Head Coach Dirk Koetter announced earlier in the week that freshman Andrew Walter will start over veteran Jeff Krohn at quarterback for the Sun Devils. Krohn was leading the Pac-10 in passing before he suffered a shoulder injury in the fifth game of the season. Krohn is now suffering from tendinitis.
-- The accolades for Robert Thomas are starting to pile up. Earlier this week Thomas was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. He also was named to the first teams of Football News and the Football Writer's Association all-American teams. Thomas is one of three finalists for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's best linebacker.
-- ASU offensive tackle Levi Jones was named first team all Pac-10, as well to the Football News second team. ASU defensive end Terrell Suggs made the Football News third team, while only being a sophomore.
-- UCLA defensive coordinator Phil Snow spend the previousnine seasons at Arizona State as a coach and defensive coordinator.
-- Last year, ASU jumped out to a 21-0 lead on UCLA at the Rose Bowl, but UCLA mounted a come-from-behind victory, 38-31.
-- ASU sophomore wide receiver Shaun McDonald is just 105 yards away from setting the all-time ASU record for receiving yards in a season. McDonald currently has 1039 yards on the season.
-- ASU tailback Delvon Flowers is 9 yards away from a 1,000 season.
-- Some UCLA seniors have accepted invitations to play in post-season all-star games. Robert Thomas and DeShaun Foster and Kenyon Coleman will play in the Senior Bowl. Ken Kocher, Ryan Nece and Brian Poli-Dixon will play in the East-West Game. Scott McEwan, Ed Ieremia-Stansbury, Troy Danoff and Bryan Fletcher and Anthony Fletcher will play in the Paradise Bowl.
-- DeShaun Foster's appeal to the NCAA concerning his suspension was quickly denied Thursday. His UCLA career is now over, ending his chance of breaking many UCLA records. Foster finished the season with 1109 yards rushing, just 462 yards short of the single-season rushing record of 1,571 set by Sharmon Shaw in 1995. Foster ended his career with 3,194 total career yards, just 537 yards short of Gaston Green's record. He was just four touchdowns short of the career touchdown record of 48 set by Skip Hicks. This with three regular season games and a potential bowl being missed because of his suspension.
-- UCLA will say goodbye to the 21 seniors who will be playing in their last UCLA home game in the Rose Bowl on Saturday. They are: Jason Stephens, Marques Anderson, Robert Thomas, Scott McEwan, Ed Ieremia-Stansbury, Cody Joyce, Devon Reese, Matt Stanley, Ryan Nece, Troy Danoff, Kevin Stromsborg, Luke Krall, Stephen Sua, Jeff Grau, Ed Anderson, Bryan Fletcher, Brian Poli-Dixon, Adam Peters, Anthony Fletcher, Ken Kocher, and Kenyon Coleman.
ARIZONA STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
It's by far the better matchup in the game, with the #1 defense in the Pac-10 going up against the #4 offense in the conference. And it's a great matchup in the trenches, with one of the best offensive lines in the conference going up against probably the best defensive line.
Arizona State's offense is led by its two senior offensive linemen, left tackle Levi Jones and center Scott Peters, both of whom made all Pac-10 honors this week. But they are also joined by some talent and experience around them, with two other seniors on the starting offensive line and a promising sophomore. Arizona State has averaged 33 points a game, run for 162 yards a game and passed for 262 yards a game this season based on the great work by this offensive line. They open great holes for the ASU running backs and give the ASU quarterbacks plenty of time to throw. Recently, though, during ASU's recent skid, they've been giving up an uncharacteristic amount of sacks, eighteen in the last three games, after only giving up 11 in ASU's first seven games.
The primary beneficiary of this very good offensive line has been senior running back Delvon Flowers (pictured above right). Every UCLA fan remembers Flowers, who took an inside screen for a touchdown two years ago in the last seconds of the game to win in Tempe, 28-27. Flowers, almost under the radar screen, two years later, has developed into one of the best backs in the west, being third in the Pac-10 in yardage while averaging 5.8 yards a carry. Flowers has been especially good toward the end of season, having run for three consecutive 100-yard games coming into the UCLA game. He's got good size at 6-0 and about 200 pounds, but he's got some good moves and speed – the type of runner UCLA has struggled with this season.
Arizona State will start freshman Andrew Walter at quarterback, due to the tendinitis that starter Jeff Krohn is suffering. Krohn is the Pac-10 leader in passing efficiency so it's a big drop-off to Walter. When Krohn is running the ASU offense this year, the Sun Devils were generally pretty good, starting out the season 3-1 and averaging around 45 points a game until he went down with an injury against USC in the fifth game of the season. Since then Krohn has played off and on, and ASU has followed that lead, losing the last four in a row and five of the last seven. Walter is completing only 38% of his passes, and has thrown only 1 touchdown, compared to Krohn's 19 on the season. That's a huge dropoff when it comes to playmaking at quarterback for ASU.
If you're talking playmaker, though, Arizona State has one in sophomore wide receiver, Shaun McDonald (pictured at left). McDonald has 44 catches on the season for 1039 yards, averaging a whopping 23.6 yards a reception and 103 yards a game, which gets him ranked 9th in the country. All of this from a guy who is just 5-9 and weighs 165 pounds (With him and Oregon's 5-9 Keenan Howry making up the Pac-10 first team wide receivers, so much for the big receiver theory). He is a dangerous weapon, able to slip behind cornerbacks with great speed, but also great after catching the ball.
UCLA's defense is pretty banged up, particulary in the secondary. Jason Stephens (turf toe) and Marques Anderson (torn rib cartilage) are both very doubtful for the game, which is a shame since it's their last game in the Rose Bowl. And while Ben Emanuel has played well replacing Stephens, there is quite a dropoff between Anderson and his backup, Kevin Brant. Add into this that freshman cornerback Matt Ware isn't 100% because of the shoulder he separated in the USC game and you've got a banged up secondary. True freshman safety Jibril Raymo could be seeing some time, getting him minutes to prepare him for a larger role next season, as will cornerback Joe Hunter spelling Ware. With so many injuries to the secondary, it would have been disastrous if Krohn was healthy and ready to go.
UCLA's defense this year, though, has been in front seven, and the seniors among this group will be up for playing their last game as seniors in the Rose Bowl. You can expect Kenyon Coleman, Ken Kocher, Anthony Fletcher, Robert Thomas and Ryan Nece to be playing with some inspiration – and to prove to NFL scouts that they're worthy of a draft choice. It will be a matchup of talent and experience going up against Arizona State's offensive line.
Advantage: UCLA. But only because Krohn won't play much, if at all. If Krohn does miraculously play, all bets are off. Even though UCLA's defense has been the strength of the team all season and has generally played well even when the team was letting down, it's been getting worn down as the season as gone on. Having to carry the team carries a lot of weight, and it's showed. With the injuries to the secondary for this game, and the disappointment of the season in general, it would be particularly Herculean of the UCLA defense to completely shut down Arizona State.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. ARIZONA'S DEFENSE
Arizona State's defense isn't as bad as you would think. They're giving up 30 points a game, which is huge, but not really giving up that many yards (middle of the pack in the Pac-10). They've been particularly susceptible to big plays, and big play makers.
On a positive note for Arizona State, UCLA will be lacking most of its big playmaker for this game. Gone is Freddie Mitchell (oh, yeah, he's been gone all year), DeShaun Foster, Tab Perry (he might play but you can't really expect him to be too effective) and Ryan Smith (who has tried courageously to return from a sprained shoulder and sprained ankle). It was very evident in the USC game that UCLA was simply without playmakers – lacking anyone who could really make a big play that could turn the game around. On top of that, UCLA will start fifth-year senior and perennial back-up Scott McEwan (pictured at right) at quarterback for the first time in his career, replacing the demoted Cory Paus. Not that Paus was any great playmaker this year, but it still takes away one more starter.
This is, though, Scott McEwan's game. No matter how disappointed you are in this year's team and how burned out, you have to be somewhat inspired by McEwan's chance to start his last game as a Bruin. And, if his performance this year is any indication, McEwan is probably more effective than Paus anyway, being far more mobile and, even more importantly, being able to make quicker decisions in the pocket. Other than coming to support UCLA and give the seniors a proper send off, the other predominant reason to come to the Rose Bowl on Saturday is to give a good Bruin soldier like Scott McEwan his due – and possibly bittersweetly see what UCLA might have been if he had played more than Paus this year.
Perhaps another reason to attend the game is to see presumed playmaker Brian Poli-Dixon in his last appearance as a Bruin.
With so many guys out or missing in action, a lot of responsibility for playmaking will fall to freshman wide receiver Craig Bragg. Also, expect to see Matt Ware behind center and possibly throwing some passes out of the option this week. If it works well, who knows? Ware could be getting more and more time on offense in the spring.
UCLA has to give the ball more to tailback Manuel White, who, since Foster has been out, has looked clearly better than Akil Harris. Against USC, White moved the pile four or five yards, and it's a mystery as to why he was pulled when he was the only offensive player in the game that was slightly effective. It would be very welcome to see White given a chance to play most of the game, get in a rhythm and see what he could do.
Arizona State's defense is led by star sophomore defensive end Terrell Suggs (pictured at left), who is a menace of a pash rusher, having registerd 10 sacks on the season, which is second in the Pac-10. UCLA will have to do its best to contain Suggs to give McEwan some time to get comfortable.
Arizona State also has a very good defensive tackle in Tommie Townsend, even though ASU's defensive line as been particularly vulnerable lately. Other standouts to watch are ASU's safeties, Alfred Williams and Jason Shivers, a junior and a freshman, respectively. Also linebackers Mason Unck and Solomon Bates give ASU a solid linebacking group.
Advantage: ASU. It's not that ASU's defense is really particularly great, it's just there are too many things stacked (as in boxes) against UCLA's offense. It's missing its Heisman Trophy candidate running back, its starting quarterback, a starting wide receiver, and the heart of the other starting wide receiver. Arizona's defensive philosophy is, of course, to stack the box against its opponents and make them beat you through the air. It's been UCLA's nemesis for two years and perhaps the #1 reason for its downfall this season. The big question to this game (and perhaps another reason to come to the Rose Bowl), is to see if UCLA can, in its last attempt for the season, devise a game plan to overcome the stacked box that ASU will use. Will it devise a game plan that gives first-time starter McEwan time and room to operate? Will it then open it up for UCLA's running backs? Will it help UCLA's offensive line by making them block only maybe 5 or 6 guys instead of 8 or 9? It's conceivable that UCLA will try some things for the ASU game but without the horses it's questionable whether the UCLA offense will effectively be able to move the ball.
There are so many what-ifs to this game. If Scott McEwan moves the offense effectively, what if he would have been the quarterback all season? If Manuel White can have a break-out game, what if he would have had more playing time? And the big what-if: What if UCLA loses this game? What will that do to the program? It's a huge game for UCLA, to restore some dignity to a team and program that had national championship hopes earlier in the season; to ensure a winning season; to make them look more attractive to bowl officials, to stop the Toledo bashers, and to show the recruits in attendance that the team, staff, and program have heart. Not to be overly dramatic, but if UCLA loses this game, it could be a huge blow to Head Coach Bob Toledo and his program.
Arizona State 17