(Photo: Nicholas Badders/WCSN)
Arizona State is on the verge of bowl eligibility this Saturday, as the Sun Devils head to the Rose Bowl to face UCLA. ASU missed the postseason last year after stumbling to a 5-7 record, but can reach a bowl-clinching sixth win of the season with two games to spare by knocking off the Bruins this weekend. The game will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Arizona time (6:30 p.m. local time in Pasadena) and will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
Scouting the Bruins
- JOSH ROSEN’S HEALTH
UCLA’s star junior quarterback Josh Rosen is expected to be healthy to face ASU this weekend after missing the Bruins most recent game (a 48-17 loss to Utah last week) with a concussion. The Bruins offense revolves around Rosen, who has averaged 42 passing attempts per game this season. Rosen is third in the conference in both yards (2,713), touchdown passes (20) and yards per attempt (8.1). But Rosen has also tossed the third-most interceptions among Pac-12 quarterback (8) and has only completed a pedestrian 63.1 percent of his passes, the sixth-best mark among the conference’s 11 qualified quarterbacks.
That mixed bag of stats didn’t stop ASU’s coaches from raving about Rosen’s pure talent; coach Todd Graham warned of UCLA’s big-play passing game with Rosen under center and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said his group will need to bring consistent pressure. Even senior linebacker A.J. Latu said Rosen has a “NFL quarterback arm.”
In two career starts against the Sun Devils, Rosen has thrown for 680 total yards and four touchdowns. UCLA lost both of those games however.
- BANGED UP RECEIVING CORPS
Though Rosen looks likely to return from his injuries, his targets in the passing game haven’t been so lucky.
UCLA’s top two receivers — Darren Andrews (knee) and Caleb Wilson (foot) — are done for the season. In addition, UCLA’s No. 3 wide out, Jordan Lasley, is also likely to miss out this week due to a team-imposed indefinite suspension, according to the Daily Bruin.
That trio has accounted for 1,806 of UCLA’s 2,949 yards through the air this season. That’s more than 61 percent of the Bruins’ wide receiver production.
UCLA have four other receivers with double-digit catches this year. Sophomore Leo Howard is at the forefront of that wave of necessity-promoted starters, having caught 31 passes for 333 yards this fall.
- ANOTHER POOR RUN DEFENSE
Like Colorado last week, the Sun Devils will be facing a suspect run defense against UCLA on Saturday. The Bruins enter week 11 with the second-worst run defense in the country, allowing over 300 yards per game on average this year. UCLA has kept an opponents to under 190 rushing yards in a game just once this year (in week 2 against Memphis, a game it gave up a season-high 398 passing yards). After losing four defensive starters off last year’s team to the NFL Draft, Jim Mora’s defense has struggled to perform up front.
Nearly half of UCLA’s front seven is made up of underclassmen and, unlike ASU, the Bruins have not seen much midseason improvement from the unit. UCLA also struggles to force turnovers, having taken the ball away just nine times this season. ASU’s offense meanwhile has coughed the rock up on only seven occasions this year.
Keys to the Game for ASU
- RUN THE BALL
Obvious, running the ball will always be key for ASU, but could be especially important again this week for the Sun Devils. When ASU’s ground game is effective, it has had success this year — the Sun Devils are 3-1 when attempting more than 45 rushing attempts this season; they are 2-3 when they don’t.
ASU is also coming off a season-best rushing performance against Colorado, a 381-yard display that helped the Devils overcome a two-score fourth quarter deficit.
- WIN TURNOVER BATTLE
Graham has preached all season of the three stats he cares about most: snaps, negative plays and turnovers. The latter of that group should play right into ASU’s hands this week against a Bruins team with -8 turnover margin (second-worst in the Pac-12). When UCLA has more than two giveaways this season, it is 1-3 — the Bruins are 3-2 when turning the ball over either once or none.
Things to Watch For
- ROSEN’S CONFIDENCE IN POCKET
While Rosen is probable to play on Saturday night, his mental confidence will be in question in his first game back from a concussion. Rosen has dealt with injuries before, most notably when missing the second half of UCLA’s season last year. But if ASU’s pass rush can get to him early, his true preparedness for returning to the field will be tested.
- JALEN HARVEY’S PRODUCTION
For the first six games of ASU’s season, junior wide receiver Jalen Harvey had been the Sun Devils fail-safe in the passing game, seemingly always available for first down catches. Harvey has fallen off the map recently however and has just three receptions in his last three games — he had 22 grabs in the first half dozen games of the year.
- ENO BENJAMIN’S USE
ASU true freshman running back Eno Benjamin had a breakout game last week against Colorado, scoring his first career touchdown in a 5-carry, 52-yard performance. Though the Sun Devil rookie is still behind seniors Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard in the backfield pecking order, running backs coach John Simon said he thinks his first-year talent is ready to be worked more into the game plan. With ASU facing another porous rush defense in UCLA, Benjamin might see some important carries for a second straight week.
UCLA is undefeated at the Rose Bowl this season, but those wins came with the Bruins having their top receivers and a fully-healthy Rosen. That won’t be the case this week. ASU also has its own history of recent success in Pasadena, having won each of its last two trips there; the Sun Devils also haven’t lost by more than 10 points at UCLA since 1989.
Final: ASU 38, UCLA 24