(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Many could easily assume that Arizona State would take this week of practice to lick its wounds after being blown out by No. 17 USC, but that simply isn’t the case as the Sun Devils prepare to play at No. 7 UCLA.
Instead, the mood inside the Dickey Dome on Thursday was as upbeat and loose as it’s been.
“The way we responded this week has been fun,” quarterback Mike Bercovici said. “That’s kind of been the motto this week: Have fun.”
Of course, coming out on the victorious side is always much more fun than the alternative, and for that to happen for ASU, that means amending the miscues that littered its loss last Saturday.
“The number one thing that we got to do is come out of this game with 100 percent ball security,” head coach Todd Graham said.
The four turnovers against USC allowed the Trojans to rack up 28 points off turnovers, and Graham immediately acknowledged in his post-game press conference that his team can’t expect to win while turning the ball over at that frequency.
Challenges in Stopping Paul Perkins
UCLA boasts a great weapon in the backfield in the form of redshirt junior Paul Perkins, who has picked up right where he left off last season when he led the Pac-12 in rushing.
In UCLA’s 56-30 win over Arizona last week, Perkins rushed for 93 yards on 24 carries and got into the end zone three times. His presence gives the Bruins an offensive balance that helps take pressure off its talented true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.
“He (Perkins) makes you tackle him every down,” ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “If you’re just sitting there, a lot of times it’s one-on-one situations, he’s going to make you miss. You got to do a great job swarm tackling him.”
ASU has shown the ability to slow down a strong ground attack, as it held USC’s talented backfield to an average of 2.4 yards per carry and a grand total of 76 yards. That performance last week has given a boost of confidence to the defense.
“Our run-stop defense is as well as it has ever been,” redshirt junior defensive end Edmond Boateng said. “We definitely got to keep on pursuing to the ball, tackling as well as possible. We preached a lot about running to the ball this week. We took a backtrack and took a look at how much effort last year on how much we were running to the ball.”
Despite the success stopping the run, the Sun Devils had blatant issues making tackles in the open field against USC’s athletes. Being exposed on that stage has forced the defense to get back to what it perceives as basics.
“Sometimes, we were relying on other people to make the play,” Boateng said. “That tends to happen with every team, so in order to be different, you can’t be every other team. You got to be that one man out of 11 to make that play. You got to look out for your teammates.”
ASU has an opportunity to rattle UCLA’s freshman quarterback. Rosen went 19-for-28 and tossed two touchdowns against Arizona while only being sacked twice. However, Rosen did throw three interceptions two weeks ago against BYU, so if ASU can create havoc in the pocket, the secondary could find itself presented with some opportunities.
That being said, ASU wasn’t able to generate much of a pass rush against USC’s strong offensive line and only racked up two sacks.
“That’s something we need to harp on a lot more,” Boateng said. “Individual sacks, four-man pressures are very important, especially when you see third downs.”
ASU still has more than a shot at contending for the Pac-12 South and creating an opportunity to compete for the conference championship, but that has to start on Saturday in Pasadena.
“A lot people say winning comes with lessons, and losing comes with even more lessons,” Boateng said. “But at the end of the day, you need to correct (yourself) win or lose and go into the next game solid.”
– Redshirt junior De’Chavon Hayes was seen in a white jersey as practice ended today, which signifies a defensive player. Hayes has spent time at cornerback with Lloyd Carrington limited this week in practice.
– Graham said he expects both Carrington and senior center Nick Kelly to play on Saturday.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com