Arizona State takes on UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday afternoon in one of the biggest games between the two schools. If Arizona State wins, they get the South Division crown. If UCLA wins, they stay alive in the race for one more week. Here are five keys to the game that will help decide the outcome of this nail-biting event.
1. UCLA’s Running Back Situation
So who is NOT hurt? That is the real question here. Jordan James is set to return against the Sun Devils, so the Bruins will have their number one guy back. There is also the human-shaped bulldozer, Myles Jack, who we will get into later. Let us not forget Paul Perkins who has been doing a fine job holding down the fort while everyone is recovering. But after that it is uncertain. In the Washington game, Malcolm Jones and Damien Thigpen had some noticeable injuries. If it came down to it, Perkins and Jack could do all the work. Perkins going for the long runs and Jack smashing it in for short yardage, no problem.
2. UCLA Offense vs Will Sutton
The fact that the Bruins are uncertain about their running back situation only adds strength to ASU defensive end Will Sutton. Sutton, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last year, a 6’1” 288 lbs defensive tackle one does not want to run into. His numbers are down from last season, but when you have the size and strength of Sutton, all you really need to do is stand there.
The presence of this defensive sun god alone is enough to make any offensive coordinator scheme his pants. The point is that he stops the run dead in its tracks. Sutton has the potential to limit whatever UCLA runs at ASU. He will even drop you for a big loss. Forget using Jack for short yardage situations, if the Bruins are not able to get short yardage situations, it becomes a moot point. Advantage, ASU.
3. ASU Offense versus Linebacker “U”
The Sun Devils have a good combination in quarterback Taylor Kelly and running back Marion Grice. Kelly has the 16th most yards in the nation with 2,838 and has tallied 24 touchdowns with 10 interceptions and 25 sacks. This kid is also known to get out there and scramble a bit, but he does not need to do much when someone like Grice is on your side. He is within a football field of hitting the 1,000 yards mark. He also has 14 TDs to add to his resume. They are a good defense, but they have not seen anything like the UCLA linebackers.
The thing is they have to face the likes of Jack, Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt and superstar linebacker, Anthony Barr. Yikes. These guys are the top four tackles on the Bruins and total 289 tackles. Do you want to know how many total tackles ASU’s top four tacklers have? 208. I am sure the ASU offense does not see this type of pressure in practice.
4. ASU Offense versus Secondary “Ugh”
The passing game of Arizona State is not one to be messed with. They are averaging 292.6 yards per game and have eight players with over 200 yards receiving. They are lead by sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong who has 834 yards on the year. Put that all together and they are the 22nd best passing team in the nation. Why is that a problem? Well…
UCLA got burned for 330 yards through the air against Washington last week. The Bruins allowed nine pass completions of 15 or more yards, two that went for 44 and 50 yards. The Bruins had an answer to the Huskies’ run game, but were clueless against the pass. The secondary was a big question mark for the Bruins entering the season but they held their own for the most part. If Arizona State learns anything from watching UCLA, it is attack through the air.
5. ASU Offense AND Defense versus Myles Jack
Myles Jack is everywhere. The trees. The rocks. You, me. He is the Force. Washington knew he would be used and they still could not stop his four rushing touchdowns. He even collected five tackles on defense, you know, his normal job. Maybe if Arizona State throws enough guys at him, Jack will eventually tire out.
But seriously, If Jack is used all the time, he will get exhausted. On offense, he has been great in the short yardage situations, but if he starts trucking on first and ten, then he will be putty in the Sun Devil’s hands early in the game. ASU just needs too worry about him smashing through during the short game.
As for defense, Jack the Linebacker, has the ability to cover wide receivers. He is that fast, America! Not to mention he is part of “Linebacker U”, the best defensive group in the Pac-12. Please refer to section #3 above for reference. It is clear now that a lot of Sun Devils are going to get up close and personal with the freshman phenom. Do not blink during this game, America. You might miss something.