Preview of Arizona State Game

UCLA travels to Arizona State Friday, with the two teams having a great deal in common, not just their 4-6 records and the fact that both are still trying to salvage their seasons. Both teams are young, with makeshift OLs and a limited running game...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- UCLA travels to Tempe, Arizona, Saturday to take on Arizona State at 6:30 PST. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN2 with Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman calling the action.

-- ASU has an identical record to UCLA – 4-6 overall and 3-4 in the Pac-10.

-- The two teams have had the same result against their common opponents. Both teams beat Stanford, Washington State and Washington, while losing to Cal, Oregon and Oregon State.

-- The Sun Devils, like the Bruins, are trying to get bowl eligible. They need to beat UCLA and then Arizona in Tucson to get to a bowl-eligible 6 wins. UCLA needs to beat ASU and USC.

-- Against their common opponents, ASU has scored 139 points and given up 141, while UCLA has scored 128 points and allowed 138.

-- This will be only the 25th meeting between the two teams all-time, which is the least UCLA has played against any Pac-10 team. The series dates back to only 1976, with UCLA leading 15-8-1.

-- UCLA and ASU have split their last four contests, with each team going 1-1 on its home field. ASU won last year's meeting in the Rose Bowl, 24-20. UCLA beat the Sun Devils in 2006 in Tempe, 24-12.

-- Arizona State is coached by Dennis Erickson, who is in his second year in Tempe. Last season, in his first year, he guided the Sun Devils to a 10-3 record, a share of the Pac-10 championship and a berth in the Holiday Bowl while winning Pac-10 Coach of the Year. Erickson, of course, is a two-time national champion at Miami (1989, 1991). He then coached in the NFL (Seattle Seahawks, 1995-1998) before returning to college to coach Oregon State (1999-2002). He went back to the pros to coach the San Francisco 49ers (2003-2004), then back to the University of Idaho (2006), where he had coached in the 1980s, before he took the ASU job before last season.

-- There were some considerable expectations in Tempe for this season, with Erickson being deemed a savior of the Sun Devil program, leading them to such a successful effort in his first year. ASU was picked in the top 20 in most pre-season polls, but the wheels have come off to an extent with the Sun Devils going 4-6.

-- Sun Devil watchers attribute their unexpected letdown to youth. ASU has played 10 true freshmen this season, the most in school history.

-- But ASU can't come close to UCLA's excuse of inexperience and youth. The Sun Devils start two freshmen, while UCLA starts five.

-- Both teams had a bye week last week.

-- UCLA has had two bye weeks so far this season before this one, and in the games after the bye week is 0-2, having being outscored 93-6 in those two games.

-- Rick Neuheisel grew up in Tempe, Arizona, and is expecting a large contingent of family members at the game.

-- Saturday's weather calls for clear skies and a high of 72 and a low of 49 degrees, so temperatures should be in the upper 50s for game time.

ARIZONA STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

The goal of ASU's offense after last season was to give quarterback Rudy Carpenter more protection. The Sun Devils allowed a whopping 55 sacks last year, and Carpenter was one dinged up QB for most of the season.

The Sun Devils didn't repeat that 55-sack performance this year, but Carpenter still has been under attack, being sacked 28 times, which is the 7th worst in the Pac-10. UCLA, which has had pretty poor pass protection all year, has allowed a comparable 30 sacks.

ASU receiver Mike Jones.
The issue comes down to the offensive line, since ASU was replacing some graduating players with younger ones. It's been pretty much a similar story to UCLA's (but just not quite as bad) for ASU's offensive line – without many horses and having to go with some very inexperienced players to get through the season. ASU's OL has two returning starters, tackles Paul Fanaika (SR, 6-6, 333) and Shawn Lauvao (JR, 6-3, 292). Other than them, they start one other junior, one sophomore and one redshirt freshman. They had injuries, and have juggled line-ups a bit (but not near as much as UCLA), trying to find the right combination of five.

Perhaps the biggest disappoint for the OL this season has been providing running room. Arizona State is averaging just 101 rushing yards per game, and just 3.1 yards per carry.

Some injuries at tailback also have contributed significantly to ASU's running woes. Senior Keegan Herring (SR, 5-10, 204) is the Pac-10's active leading career rusher, but he's been out for a third of the season with a recurring hamstring injury. It's kind of a similar story to that of UCLA's Kahlil Bell, not really being 100% back when he was back. He, like Bell, had a big day against Washington (running for 144 yards), but hasn't really gotten on track other than in that game.

Shaun DeWitty (JR, 6-2, 227) is the power guy – who has had issues of durability. Erickson redshirted him a year ago to get him more physically prepared and this was supposed to be his year, but he was nicked up early in the season. Then, a few games ago, he ran for 110 yards and looked good.

The guy with the most rushing yards for the season, however, is Dimitri Nance (JR, 5-10, 218). Nance filled in for Herring and DeWitty when they were sidelined, and then took a backseat the last couple of weeks while Herring and DeWitty returned to relative form.

Ryan Bass (FR, 5-10, 200) could also get some carries.

Generally, though, like UCLA's offense, ASU's running game has struggled. But unlike UCLA's offense, the Sun Devils have an effective passing game.

ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter (SR, 6-3, 225) is setting career records at ASU. Perhaps his most impressive record is 41 consecutive starts, which goes back to 2005 and is phenomenal given how beaten up he's been, especially last year when he was sacked 55 times. Carpenter has been stellar at times, and other times not. But he's definitely a warrior.

Defensive end Korey Bosworth.
Right now he's only about 450 yards away from surpassing UCLA's Cade McNown on the all-time Pac-10 career passing list (Carpenter is currently 8th and McNown is 5th).

Carpenter is good improvising, and throws well on the run.

He also has a good set of receivers, which always helps. Chris McGaha (JR, 6-1, 192) was the returning guy the Sun Devils expected to carry the load, and he's had a solid year. But the guy who has really stepped up and into the spotlight is Mike Jones (SR, 6-4, 211), who has emerged as one of the toughest receivers to cover in the conference. Jones combines very good size with some very good speed. He has 52 catches on the year to McGaha's 29.

For UCLA's defense, it will be challenged through the air. As it always is, probably most critical to limiting a good passing attack is getting pressure on the quarterback, which UCLA hasn't done particularly well this season. Defensive end Korey Bosworth has had a quietly good year, leading the team in sacks (5.5) and being second in tackles for loss (9). Smaller, quicker defensive ends have done well against ASU's offensive line, so it could be a good match-up for Bosworth.

UCLA's freshman safety, Rahim Moore, sprained an ankle in practice this week, even though he practiced with seemingly no limitation the last couple of days. UCLA's nickel and dime defenses, which were having some issues earlier in the season, have been consistently solid in the later half of the season, and they'll have to be when ASU goes with its four- and five-receiver sets.

Advantage: Arizona State. . The match-up is a good one, with ASU's strength (passing) going up against UCLA's defensive strength (passing defense). The advantage for ASU probably comes with UCLA's inability all season to get pressure on the quarterback; when Carpenter is given time to operate he's deadly.

ASU should also dedicate a good amount of time to establishing a running game, which they probably think they can do against UCLA, since the Bruins are giving up an average of 180 yards per game on the ground (with only Washington and Washington State worse in the Pac-10). While ASU's rushing game hasn't been great this season, they are coming off some good individual performances by Herring and DeWitty, so they could be at their best yet this season.

While ASU has been able to eat up yards, they haven't been very good at converting that to points on the board. They're averaging just 23 points per game, and have scored over 40 only once this season. UCLA's defense, on the other hand, has tended to give up considerable yards but, for the most part, kept offenses out of the endzone – at least for three quarters.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. ARIZONA STATE'S DEFENSE

The ASU defense has been a bit disappointing for ASU fans this season. It had seven starters returning, from a defense a year ago that was pretty good. It's not that ASU's defense has been poor this season, but it hasn't really gone beyond what it did last season and the heightened expectations for it this season.

ASU linebacker Mike Nixon.
ASU's defense is just about right in the middle of every Pac-10 defensive statistic. Scoring defense: 5th (23). Total defense: 5th (332 yards game). Rushing defense: 5th (132). Passing defense: 6th (200). Pass Efficiency Defense: 5th. Opponent's First Downs: 5th. Opponent's Third-Down Conversions: 5th. Redzone Defense: 5th.

That's what you call consistent. Consistently average.

As the ASU offensive coaches wanted to take pressure off Carpenter this year, the ASU defensive coaches wanted to apply more pressure to opposing quarterbacks this season.

Generally, ASU hasn't done that well. The Sun Devils have just 17 sacks on the season (UCLA has 18).

The scouting report is: take away Dexter Davis (JR, 6-2, 251) and you take away ASU's pass rush. The defensive end has 9 of ASU's 17 sacks, which makes him second in the Pac-10. Davis, as a result, has seen plenty of double-teams, and they've been relatively effective.

On the other side is end Luis Vasquez (SR, 6-3, 264), who has had a solid season.

The other story of the ASU DL has been defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (FR, 6-5, 276) a true freshman who has 35 tackles, which is among the best for Pac-10 defensive tackles. He's getting praised for his athleticism and explosion.

A familiar name to UCLA fans is Mike Nixon (JR, 6-3, 226), ASU's weakside linebacker who is putting together an all Pac-10 season. Nixon verbally committed to UCLA out of high school, then opted top play baseball, which didn't turn out really well. When he chose to return to college football he decided to play for the hometown school.

Nixon leads the team in tackles (74) and is fifth in tackles per game in the conference. He's tied for the conference lead in interceptions (4).

UCLA's Kevin Craft.
Safety Troy Nolan (SR, 6-2, 210) leads a pretty talented and experienced back four. Omar Bolden (SO, 5-10 191) has proven in his sophomore season to be a good cover corner.

For UCLA's offense, it's going to be all about Kevin Craft's effectiveness. He's had 10 games to gain experience, and he's had a wide variety of experiences to grow from After a third bye week, it's time that Craft started showing more efficiency. UCLA's running game had its only good day against Washington in its last game, but that was Washington; it'd be too much to expect that UCLA will rush for 150-ish yards. So, it's going to be up to Craft to get production out of the offense, and to try to eliminate his poor decisions. UCLA has built a pretty good stable of receivers for him to throw to, but he tends to try to force the ball into his first option far too much. Perhaps against ASU's mediocre pass rush, this is the week where Craft shows some development and looks to his secondary receiver.

UCLA lost its starting left guard, Darius Savage, for the rest of the season. But, at this point, it's tough to determine whether it matters that much with this offensive line. The personnel has been juggled more than with any UCLA offensive line in memory, as OL coach Bob Palcic tries to find the best combination with limited resources. Micah Kia is playing his third position on the line this season, stepping in for Savage.

Advantage: Arizona State. It's not a huge advantage, by any means. Arizona State's defense isn't spectacular, but they have been fairly consistent, and they're good enough to limit UCLA's running game and make Craft beat them. Watch for ASU to stack the box and try to take away any hint of a UCLA running game.

It will be interesting to see if UCLA looks to throw deep a bit more in this game. ASU's defense has been a bit vulnerable to the long ball, since opposing quarterbacks have had decent time to throw. It is, though, something UCLA hasn't done well – or done at all – this season.

UCLA's hope is to put the double-team clamps on Davis in an effort to get Craft time to make better decisions. It will almost certainly mean moving the pocket for him, where he tends to see the field much better. It's uncanny how many throws out of the pocket Craft has had batted down this season.

On Special Teams, ASU has generally been solid with its kick-off and punt coverage teams, and nothing spectacular with its punt and kick-off returns. Its placekicker, Thomas Weber (SO, 6-1, 205), is tied with UCLA's Kai Forbath for field goals made this season (16). He is, though, only 2 for 6 from beyond 40 yards.

Prediction

There are many indicators that point to ASU in this game.

There are some aspects of the game, however, that are positives for UCLA.

ASU doesn't tend to possess the ball much on offense, being a quick strike kind of attack, one that either makes a big play that gets it down the field, or throws more than it runs and goes three and out with very little time coming off the clock. UCLA, on the other hand, for a team that doesn't run well, possesses the ball pretty well. The theory for the UCLA coaching staff is to try to keep its defense off the field, keep the game close and perhaps get in position late in the game to "steal" it.

ASU, too, hasn't scored many points this season, and has really struggled to get it in the endzone against decent to good defenses. Other than Stanford, Washington and Washington State, the teams with the three worst defenses in the league, ASU has averaged just 14 points per game against the rest of the Pac-10.

While we gave both unit match-ups to Arizona State, both were by fairly slim margins.

ASU does have the homefield advantage, which hasn't necessarily served it well this season. It lost to Georgia and Oregon at home, but also to UNLV.

Most observers thought that the Sun Devils, after going through a six-game losing streak, would be ready to fold by the end of the season. They've righted themselves a bit by winning their last two games, even though those games were to Washington and Washington State. At this point, it's difficult to assess the mental state of the team. Overall, there is a sense of disappointment being 4-6 after a 10-3 season a year ago.

So, it's a fairly close match-up, with the two teams being similar in many ways. The one, true advantage ASU has is at quarterback, with an experienced guy in Carpenter who is setting records, compared to UCLA's Craft who is just trying to avoid throwing interceptions.

But every indicator makes this for a close one, and it very easily could go either way.

Arizona State 24
UCLA 20


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