Oct 27, 2013 - 11:45 am - Arizona State Sun Devils
Tempe, AZ - Through seven games in 2013, ASU 5-2 (3-1) sits atop the Pac-12 South.
With the toughest part of the schedule behind them, the Devils feel confident going into their final five conference games. However, the competition is tough: Washington St., Utah, Oregon St., UCLA and Arizona.
We are at what is hopefully the perfect half-way mark of 2013. Because to play seven more games, the Devils will have to win the PAC-12 South title which would ensure a 13th game in the PAC-12 Championship. Then win or lose, game #14 will come in the form of a Bowl game.
* * *
Looking back a year ago, one thing can't be overstated about 2012. In one year, new Head Coach Todd Graham's staff and team who "bought in" established a new identity for Sun Devil Football, finishing 8-5 including three straight Wins and ASU's victory in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
There's truth in the old cliche, "To know where you're going, you have to know from where you came."
Let's look back at key developments from the first seven games of 2012, when the Sun Devils sat at exactly the same record that they are at now, 5-2 (3-1).
Game #1, Aug. 30, 2012 - ASU vs. NAU: W, 63-6
Marion Grice led all rushers with 107 yards on 14 carries and three touchdowns
The Sun Devils rushed for a combined 305 yards on 51 attempts (5.98 per attempt)
Taylor Kelly made his first career start going 15-19 for 247 yards and one touchdown.
Kelly also rushed six times for 43 yards.
Brandon Magee made two tackles and one interception, which he returned 45 yards for a touchdown. It was his first and only career pick six.
ASU allowed 237 total yards (88 rushing, 149 passing)
Game #2, Sept. 8, 2012 - ASU vs. Illinois: W, 45-14
#52 Carl Bradford pulls Illinois QB's Jersey
The Sun Devils forced three interceptions, two from linebacker Carlos Mendoza.
A shoulder injury would end Mendoza’s season against the Illini
QB Michael Eubank threw five passes completing all of them for 69 yards and tossing two touchdowns.
Eubank also ran seven times for 51 yards and another score.
TE Chris Coyle hauled in 10 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
ASU sacked Illinois six times for -35 yards.
ASU racked up 510 total yards of offense, (192 rush, 318 pass)
Game #3, Sept. 15, 2012 - ASU at Missouri: L, 20-24
Taylor Kelly was 14 for 23 passing for 178 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Kelly had a team-high 15 rushes for 59 yards.
The Sun Devils were held to 113 yards rushing, their second lowest total of the season.
LB Brandon Magee recorded his second interception in three games.
Magee led all Sun Devils with 12 total tackles.
ASU controlled time of possession, holding the ball for 34:51 to Missouri’s 25:09
The Sun Devils were lights-out on third down, allowing Missouri to convert only twice in 12 attempts.
Game #4, Sept. 22, 2012 - ASU vs. Utah: W, 37-7
Freshman RB, #8 D.J. Foster
Utah’s two-time 1,000 yard rusher, John White, was shut down by ASU’s defense, gaining only 18 net yards on 14 carries.
ASU’s defense allowed only 129 yards of total offense.
The defense only allowed two drives of more than 26 yards.
21 of ASU’s 37 points came in the first quarter.
QB Taylor Kelly threw 326 yards on 19 completions as well as three touchdowns and one interception.
RB D.J. Foster rushed a team-high seven times and 70 yards as well as catching one pass for 26 yards.
LB Brandon Magee had a game-high 10 tackles as well as a forced fumble that he recovered.
Game #5, Sept. 29, 2012 - ASU at Cal: W, 27-17
ASU sacked Cal QB Zach Maynard seven times, tied for the most in a game all-season
DT Will Sutton and DE Junior Onyeali combined for five of the seven sacks.
The Sun Devil offense ran a whopping 94 offensive plays for 409 yards.
Of those 94 plays, ASU ran the ball 48 times (51%) but only gained 116 yards (2.4 yards per rush) and didn’t score a rushing touchdown.
K Alex Garoutte had a rough day going 2 for 5 on field goals, one of which was blocked.
ASU fumbled the ball three times but didn’t lose any of them.
WR Kevin Ozier caught three passes for 41 yards and two touchdowns.
Game #6, Oct. 11, 2012 - ASU at Colorado: W, 51-17
The Sun Devils put on their second-best offensive performance of the year with 593 yards of total offense (261 rush, 332 pass)
Taylor Kelly passed for 308 yards on 20-28 passing and tossed five touchdowns.
RB Marion Grice did most of his damage as a receiver, catching five passes for 101 yards and three touchdowns.
RB Cameron Marshall rumbled for 98 yards on 13 carries.
RB D.J. Foster led the team with 132 all-purpose yards (61 rush, 71 receiving)
LB Brandon Magee made a game-high nine solo tackles as well as sacking Colorado QB Jordan Webb twice
DT Will Sutton also chipped in two sacks.
Game #7, Oct 18, 2012 - ASU vs. No. 2 Oregon: L, 21-43
Sun Devil #10 Keelan Johnson jumping to block an Oregon Field goal
ASU scored on its very first offensive play, a 28-yard strike from QB Taylor Kelly to WR Kevin Ozier.
ASU suffered demoralizing injuries to DT Will Sutton and DE Junior Onyeali in the first quarter.
The Sun Devil defense was gashed for a season-high 406 rushing yards.
The Sun Devil defense gave up touchdown runs of 71 and 86 yards.
QB Taylor Kelly was 10 of 18 passing for 93 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked five times.
QB Michael Eubank didn’t fare much better, going 10 for 19 passing for 123 yards, one touchdown and two picks.
S Alden Darby led ASU in tackles with 12.
The Sun Devils outscored Oregon 14-0 in the second half but it was too little, too late by then.
* * *
There are certainly some similarities and differences between what ASU did in the first half of 2012 and what we have seen in 2013.
But the question is, will the 2013 Sun Devils push that rock further up the hill with their remaining schedule?
Oct 31, 2012 - 02:41 pm - On Homecoming Weekend in Tempe, the Sun Devils looked to separate themselves as the team to beat in the Pac-12 South division on Saturday against UCLA. It was the perfect opportunity to take firm control of the division. And although the Sun Devils were able to put 43 points on the board, what became abundantly clear in an otherwise muddy division, is that the talent level and depth in Tempe just can't afford any more significant injuries to key players. ASU was without stand-out defensive lineman Will Sutton, and Junior Onyeali was injured early in the game and didn’t return. It has never been more evident how much the depth on defense is an issue, than watching the final game-winning drive for UCLA. ASU took the lead with 1:33 left in the game after coming back from a 9 point deficit in the 4th quarter, only to surrender big chunks of yardage to the Bruins on their final drive for a game-winning field goal as the clock struck zero.
Taylor Kelly had 4 touchdown passes against UCLA.
ASU jumped all over UCLA early after capitalizing on a muffed punt by Steven Manfro and then using their up-tempo offense to go up 14-0 just 5:10 into the game. The Bruins responded with a series of zone-read runs that they were able to break to the outside for several big gains. The ASU defense was having moderate to good success using their multiple blitz packages, but got away from bringing much needed pressure. This allowed UCLA QB Brett Hundley way too much time to pick apart the ASU secondary to tie the score at 14. In an instant replay of last week's match-up with Oregon, Sun Devil defenders were caught way too often not maintaining outside contain or gap integrity.
As the game progressed, Taylor Kelly was able to extend plays the way he has all season, and on a beautiful roll-out hit Kevin Ozier in the end zone for what would have been a 21-14 lead if not for a blatant holding penalty on RT Brice Schwab. What should have been 7 points ended with a field goal. Combine that with a questionable offensive play call at the end of the half out of the end zone that resulted in a Kelly interception at the ASU 5 yard line and UCLA touchdown, and any momentum that ASU could have taken into the locker room was gone in an instant.
After the break, ASU scored on the opening drive of the second half on a Marion Grice screen pass after three explosive plays by DJ Foster. In another questionable call, ASU unsuccessfully attempted a 2-point conversion after the TD leaving the score 28-26. On UCLA's next possession, the lack of QB pressure exposed the secondary for several big pass plays, and ultimately a touchdown that put ASU down 35-26 with 7:35 left in the 3rd quarter. At the end of the third quarter, Kelly hit Rashad Ross down field for a 23-yard pass, followed by a screen pass to Grice two plays later for an 8-yard touchdown that brought ASU within two, 35-33.
Bruin QB, Brett Hundley is Sacked
On the following drive, UCLA backed themselves into a corner with an offensive face mask penalty setting up a long 3rd and 20. Hundley scrambled for what appeared to be a ton of open field up the middle, only to be cartwheeled on a great open field hit by Osahon Irabor forcing a punt. UCLA held ASU three and out and after a short Josh Hubner punt, and the Bruins took over on their own 44. Giving ASU a taste of their own medicine, UCLA found a wheel route mismatch with the speedy Damien Thigpen matched up with ASU linebacker Chris Young for a 20 yard touchdown strike. It was a play that that ASU has had success with their offense, and much like Foster or Grice out of the backfield for ASU, Young was no match for the speedy Thigpen. ASU responded with an impressive drive that included a pass to Grice over the middle for a big pass play. That drive stalled inside the ten yard line resulting in another Jon Mora field goal bringing ASU to within six, 42-36.
The Sun Devils defense held UCLA on their next drive, capping it with a Brandon Magee sack of Hundley on 3rd down and forcing a punt. ASU, with all the momentum, drove it down the heart of the Bruin defense with Taylor Kelly on a keeper up the middle for a huge gain. That potential game-winning drive ended with Kelly extending another play and finding freshman superstar DJ Foster in the corner of the end zone for a 43-42 ASU lead. Then with 1:33 ticks left on the clock…
UCLA Final Drive
UCLA took over possession for its final drive on their own 25 yard line.
1st down - 3-man rush. Pass complete for 14 yards to Manfro for another first down
1st down - incomplete - 2 deep safeties, man-to-man underneath
2nd and 10 - Jonathan Franklin nine yard run up the gut with no pressure - safeties in cover two and linebackers vacated in pass coverage.
3rd and 1 - 3-man rush. Completed pass for another 1st down
1st down on ASU 45 and :46 seconds left - 3-man rush and Hundley for short gain on scramble.
2nd and 9 - Complete pass to Shaq Evans for first down at ASU 33
1st down - spiked ball to stop clock
2nd and 10 - pass complete to Fauria for 7 yards
3rd and 2 - Franklin runs for first down to ASU 22
1st and 10 - Franklin 7 yards to the ASU 15 with :04
Field goal made, UCLA wins with no time remaining.
That final drive illustrates just how anemic the ASU pass rush is without Sutton (and to a lesser extent, Onyeali) unless they are sending 5 and 6 players on a blitz. Without being able to get to Hundley with just D-Ends and a D-Tackle rushing, the secondary was helpless in coverage and UCLA was able to drive the ball at will to within the field goal range for a true freshman, inconsistent kicker.
There were several players that had performed well. Osahon Irabor and Keelan Johnson were outstanding in the secondary. Carl Bradford and Chris Young (outside of getting torched on the Thigpen TD) tackled well, but still had a tough time maintaining outside contain far too often. On offense, Jamil Douglass did a good job in pass protection and lead blocking for Grice on several successful screen passes. Foster and Grice continue to be incredible all-purpose backs and both had big gains running and receiving. Taylor Kelly is great when he's extending plays, but has gotten into a habit of holding the ball too long before safely throwing it away when receivers are covered. It cost ASU a turnover and subsequent Bruin touchdown as well as at least a couple negative yardage plays when he stepped out of bounds before throwing it away. Chris Coyle had a good game catching what was thrown to him, but the UCLA defense did a good job taking away passing routes that have been his bread and butter.
DJ Foster is fired up after scoring to give the Sun Devils the lead with 1:33 left in the game.
Moving forward and after dropping back to back home games, the Sun Devils will go into Corvalis for a match-up with Oregon State who will be looking to right their own ship after having their undefeated season derailed by Washington on Saturday. Without knowing the status of difference makers Sutton and Onyeali for ASU, this is a very difficult game to predict. But as the season wears on with four games left, and the competition getting tougher week to week, the Sun Devils have shown resolve and a ton of fight for each game. I don't expect that the adversity of these two consecutive losses will change the character of this team, and expect the Sun Devils to come out with the same determination and effort for every game remaining on the schedule this year. Click here to view the entire DieHardDevil.com PHOTO GALLERY from the UCLA game
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Oct 27, 2012 - 12:17 am - By Mike Howell
Let's have a little fun.
Ok, this isn't the most family friendly entrance song for a Homecoming Game. Explicit should never correlate with anything about graduates coming back to their Alma Mater to reunite.
But for those of you reliving your college days tonight on Mill Avenue and continuing with Bloody Mary's in the morning, this cut might just give you a higher-octain surge before the Devils charge out of the tunnel at High Noon tomorrow.
Looking forward to seeing everyone at "HOME" inside Sun Devil Stadium. Let's deliver some revenge on the Bruins from last year and move to 6-2 (4-1) in the PAC-12. #Devil4Life
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Oct 26, 2012 - 10:30 am - By James Romo for DieHardDevil.com
The good news going into this week's match-up with UCLA is that the Sun Devils are still in control of their proverbial destiny as it pertains to the taking of a wide-open Pac-12 South Division. That's the good news. The tougher news is that ASU will most likely be without the one game-changing player on defense that they could not afford to lose. It'll be a welcoming back of some familiar faces on the UCLA coaching staff, and I'm sure some pleasantries will be exchanged pre-game. But knowing the character of the 2012 Sun Devils, that's exactly where the pleasantries will end.
ASU Defense vs UCLA Offense
ASU witnessed firsthand last week what a dynamic offensive backfield can do to a missed assignment, so the ASU defense will have to shore up contain and gap responsibility this week against Bruin running back Jonathan Franklin and QB Brett Hundley. ASU will most likely be without star D-Lineman Will Sutton and his uncanny ability to get into the offensive backfield, disrupt plays and pressure the quarterback. Another series of moving and inserting players on an already thin front seven for ASU will be in order this weekend. Hundley, a first-year starter has been extremely impressive with both his running ability (both designed runs and broken plays) and his arm. He currently sits second in the conference with 308 yards of total offense/game. As much as UCLA wants to establish the run with Franklin and his 125.4 yards/game rushing (6.8 yards/carry), this wouldn't be a (former ASU Offensive Coordinator) Noel Mazzone offense if the Bruins weren't slinging the ball around all over the field. It's pretty clear that ASU will have their collective hands full attempting to slow down the UCLA offense, but they may end up having to put a premium on stopping the run, as ASU is ranked 8th in the conference in rushing defense. UCLA sports a #2 ranking in rushing offense (216.6 yards/game), putting the pressure on the ASU front seven. ASU still maintains their top ranking as the #1 passing defense (130.43 yards) in the nation, and top ranking in passing efficiency defense, sacks (4/game), tackles for loss (9.43/game), and total defense (298.6 yards/game) in the conference. UCLA presents another "pick your poison" predicament for the Sun Devils with their high-powered and balanced offense. As impressive as Hundley has been, the Cal defense forced him into throwing four interceptions two weeks ago in a loss, possibly providing a blueprint to getting him off of his game.
UCLA obviously isn't without weapons at the receiver position. Junior Shaq Evans has been Hundley's primary receiver with 28 catches for 413 total yards, 14.8 yards/catch, and two touchdowns. UCLA also uses the tight end with great success (and a bit of surprise). Joseph Fauria presents a mismatch nightmare with his 6-foot-7 frame and great hands. He leads the Bruins with five touchdown grabs and commands special attention in red zone situations. They also use their short-passing game, a staple of Mazzone's offense, with tosses to Steven Manfro out of the slot position for 23 receptions, a 9.6 yards/catch average, and a touchdown. One facet of the Bruin offense that would have played into a Sutton-led ASU defense is their propensity to allow defenders to penetrate their backfield and give up negative yardage plays. Only time will tell whether Sutton will be able to go on Saturday (not likely), or if another defender can reasonably duplicate his success at disrupting plays before they get going. But make no mistake, their O-line has performed well enough to put together an impressive offensive resume' at the midpoint of the season.
ASU Offense vs UCLA Defense
Defensively, UCLA operates out of a 3-4 front seven who have been solid to good, but not great. They are anchored by a true, and hard to find, defensive tackle in 323-pound Seali'i Epenesa. He does as well as anyone in the conference at occupying interior lineman allowing his linebacker core to make plays in the run game. He also has a formidable tandem in defensive tackles Cassius Marsh and Datone Jones. Jones has four sacks and has done a good job creating pressure in the opposition's backfield. UCLA ranks 4th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense only allowing 116.2 yards/game. Much of that success is due to a prototypical 3-4 linebacker core that is extremely athletic, but has probably under-performed in terms of their raw talent and depth. Inside LB Eric Kendricks has been a force in the middle, and fundamentally sound in his run-stopping responsibilities. He is at his best coming forward in attacking the run, but lacks in his drops into pass coverage. This should open up passing lanes for the ASU slot receivers and tight ends. The Bruin secondary is stacked with talent, but still gives up 286 yards in the air and rank 9th in the conference. Cornerback Sheldon Price has four interceptions and safety Andrew Abbott has 2 picks of his own.
Like any balanced team, ASU will look to establish the run early to open up passing lanes behind the linebacker core. The combination of the struggling ASU receiving core and talented UCLA cornerbacks should result in few vertical big plays for ASU. But the strength of the ASU passing game has been in the short to intermediate routes to the tight end and slot receivers and forcing defenders into mismatches and making plays in space. Chris Coyle and whoever ASU plays in the slot should find plenty of space to work with as long as the outside receivers do their part in running the safeties off. Taylor Kelly had trouble with the Oregon defense disguising coverages last week, and I expect that UCLA will attempt to duplicate the Oregon success, at least to some degree. UCLA has blitz packages that have yielded more big plays against them than resulting in success. I expect to see UCLA drop more players to take away Kelly's go-to receivers and play-makers forcing ASU to beat them with their run game.
With two teams very much still in the hunt for the Pac-12 South crown, this should be a tough and physical match-up on Saturday with plenty at stake. As with most teams with new coaching staffs, both teams are still in the process of finding their identity. This game will go a long way in starting to separate who is truly a contender for top spots in the Pac-12 South. It's a rare noon kick off time on Homecoming Weekend at Sun Devil Stadium and DieHard Devils will be there in full force. The performance by ASU this weekend will say a lot about where this program is currently at, and where it is headed for the rest of the 2012 season.
Nov 10, 2011 - 08:58 pm - By Juan Roque for DieHardDevil.com
During the course of a college football season there are highs and lows. There are moments of great joy that can suddenly change to disappointment in a few seconds or minutes. That’s the game of football. For the Arizona State Sun Devils, that was the theme at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. Favored by 9 ½ points, the Sun Devils arrived in Pasadena in the driver’s seat and in complete control to win the Pac-12 South. They were coming off an expected and convincing win against a hapless Colorado team and were looking to bring the 4-4 UCLA Bruins back to reality. UCLA was coming off a huge win against Cal and were looking to position themselves for a first place tie with the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 south. Bringing talent on both sides of the ball with their high powered offense and hard hitting defense, the Sun Devils clearly had the advantage…on paper that is.
Unfortunately for ASU, the Bruins had other plans.
UCLA came out of the tunnel focused and determined, played an inspired second half and capitalized on ASU special teams and coaching issues to earn a 28-29 victory in Pasadena. The Bruins were victorious despite a late drive by the Sun Devils which would have won the game, but Alex Garoutte’s third field goal attempt of the night fell short. Despite leading the game in statistics, the Sun Devils were not able to get the “W” on the road and surely are scratching their heads knowing they were the better team. The loss set the Sun Devils back in their goal to earn a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game and now share the conference lead with the Bruins and USC. With three games left in the 2011 season, the Sun Devils will need to rally, win out and witness another UCLA loss to ensure a first place finish.
Grading the Game
Brock Osweiler had another decent outing as he effectively managed the game and continues to be smart with the football with no turnovers. His decisions were good and there were some dropped passes by the ASU receivers that did not help his stats. Brock would be the first one say that stats don’t matter and he would rather win the game. However, on the night Osweiler was a respectable 22 of 38 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. He was not intercepted and had 38 yards running the ball. He led a heroic late game drive that put ASU in position to win the game. Brock also admitted that he made the wrong read on an important play at a very crucial point in the game when he should have thrown to an open Jamal Miles for what would have been a sure six points.
Cameron Marshall was gallant in defeat rushing for a season high 168 yards on 27 carries with a touchdown. Also, Cameron’s blocking ability as well as skills in picking up the blitz continues to be a big asset to the ASU passing game. Jamal Miles caught five passes but was hit behind the line several times and only totaled 19 yards. He had a nice touchdown run after a catch for ASU’s third score of the game. In limited action, Kyle Middlebrooks continues to struggle when he runs the football with one carry for two yards.
Dropped passes plagued the unit again Saturday but overall they put in a valiant effort. Gerell Robinson continues to shine catching six passes for 131 yards. He has become a solid possession receiver that can take a hit after the catch while fighting for extra yardage. George Bell contributed after a quiet day against Colorado catching three passes for 24 yards. Although we would like to see more out of him, Mike Willie caught three passes for 19 yards, and A.J Pickens made an exciting catch on a crossing route before outrunning three Bruin defenders for a touchdown in the first quarter.
The unit played very well and opened some big holes for Cameron Marshall. They only gave up one sack but otherwise pass protection and run blocking was solid. This was one of the better games the Hell Hogs have played all year and everyone seems relatively healthy.
When UCLA runs the ball for 220 total yards, you know this unit did not play well. ASU had four sacks on defense Saturday; none by this unit. Bo Moos led the group in tackles with three. Junior Onyeali is still not 100% and Will Sutton only managed one tackle. UCLA QB, Kevin Prince and running back, Derrick Coleman shredded the front seven and combined for 170 yards on the ground. Although some of Prince’s runs to the outside should have seen more action from the Sun Devil linebackers and safety's, the D-Line needed to do a better job containing the Bruin rush. Not a good effort Saturday as this unit underachieved.
They played decent at times, awful at others. Missed assignments and tackles plagued them as they had difficulty filling the gaps to stop the run. A lot can be blamed on the defensive line getting driven off the ball, but this linebacker unit is far too talented not to make a bigger impact. Vontaze Burfict had six tackles and a sack, but seemed to miss coverage assignments. Colin Parker continues to be the steady leader of the group and made six tackles as well. Shelly Lyons made five stops but was beaten on a few big runs by Kevin Prince. This unit is capable of much better and will need to step their game up in the coming weeks.
Nelson Rosario scored a touchdown at the start of the second half due to disastrous broken coverage. Deveron Carr and Clint Floyd were both beaten bad on that play. At other times, Carr over pursued QB Price on his runs which resulted in some big gains on the ground. Late in the fourth quarter was perhaps the most pivotal play of the game. Defensive back, Alden Darby got turned around in his coverage of UCLA’s Rosario on a long third and 29 pass play which resulted in new downs for the Bruins. Game tape shows that ASU may have executed wrong coverage on that play given the likely pass play. Clint Floyd made nine tackles and fought for very one. Keelan Johnson had a big sack, broke up a pass and made five tackles. Other than Bruins receiver, Rosario, catching five passes for big yardage, no other Bruin made any meaningful contribution. Also of note, the group failed to force any turnovers in this contest.
Three missed field goals and one kick off out of bounds. Nothing more needs to be said.
This loss was tough to swallow. Bottom line, by not closing the game out when they had the chance, the Sun Devils put themselves in a difficult position with two minutes left on the clock. Although most will point the finger at the missed field goals, this was a team loss, including the coaching staff. There are questions about the defensive coverage package late in the fourth quarter when ASU had UCLA facing a third down and 29. On that specific play, ASU showed three linebackers instead of two linebackers and an extra defensive back to help with pass coverage. The likelihood of UCLA choosing to run the ball on third and 29 was well... very unlikely. Immediately after that play, the clock management issues began when timeouts were called very late as valuable time dissolved late in the game. Could those extra seconds have allowed ASU to run 2 to 3 more plays and gain another 10-15 yards, setting up a more reasonable game-winning field goal. Yes, there were notable coaching errors made, but the fact that ASU found themselves fighting to come from behind in the final seconds of the game is the harder pill to swallow. The pressure on ASU has cranked up a few notches for the final three games of this 2011 season. These are three winnable games, just like UCLA. Saturday was a reminder that every game is a battle in the Pac-12, and no one can be overlooked.
Nov 05, 2011 - 12:50 pm - By Juan Roque for DieHardDevil.com
The Arizona State Sun Devils are back on the road this week to travel to a place they would like to visit again on January 2nd…the Rose Bowl. On Saturday, the Sun Devils (6-2) will face their Pac-12 conference foe UCLA Bruins in what turns out to be a game of major importance for the newly created South Division. The Bruins (4-4) are still on a mission to redeem themselves after a disastrous Thursday night on ESPN game a few weeks back where they were throttled by a struggling Arizona Wildcats team that was playing under an new interim coach. The Bruins were out of synch and played uninspired in the 48-12 drubbing in Tucson. Since that game, the blogosphere and sports talk radio has been on fire in regards to UCLA's head coach Rick Neuheisel’s job security. Many predicted that the beleaguered UCLA coach would join former Arizona coach Mike Stoops in the unemployment line after such a disappointing loss. In less than two weeks, fortunes changed dramatically in Westwood and now the Bruins are feeling much better about where they are as a team and as a program. After being embarrassed against the Wildcats, the Bruins responded by regrouping and dominating Cal last week 31-14. With that win in the books, all of the sudden the Bruins have positioned themselves to have an opportunity to contend for the South Division and have something to play for against the favored Sun Devils.
Enter Arizona State
The Sun Devils are 4-1 in conference play and coming off a solid win at home against a struggling Colorado team. The Sun Devils dominated the Buffaloes while cruising to a 48-14 win and are now sitting in the driver seat in the South. While UCLA's coach is fighting for his job and doing what he can to bring some relevance back to Westwood, ASU's Dennis Erickson is feeling pretty good about where his team is at after eight games into the season. The Sun Devils have established themselves as a big play offense, and their defense is emerging as a reliable unit that does not give up much without a fight. Other than Oregon's big second half against them on the ground, the Sun Devils have been steady in their bend but don't break approach. In conference play, the Sun Devils have outscored their opponents 188-111 for a 37.6 - 22.2 per game scoring average. This week, ASU will be looking to take another step towards locking up their division and earning a spot in the inaugural championship game. This game will also have somewhat of a revenge angle to it as ASU was beat by UCLA the last time they faced each other at the Rose Bowl in 2009, especially for the players from California on each team. The Bruins won the game 23-13 and became bowl eligible while the Sun Devils limped to a 4-8 record that year.
Meet the Bruins on Offense
UCLA uses multiple sets that range from Pro-Style to the old school Pistol formation. The Bruins suffered a huge loss two weeks ago when starting quarterback Richard Breuhat broke his leg against Washington State. The Bruins then had to turn to benched quarterback Kevin Prince who single handedly ran over the Cal Bears last week in the Bruins' rout gaining 163 yards on the ground. On the season, Prince's passing numbers are far from stellar completing 40 passes on 76 attempts for 636 yards. The one advantage he does have is his competitive fire and his will to win. What makes him a dangerous player is that he is out to prove himself after being benched earlier in the season.
In the passing game, the Bruins boast one of the league's more experienced receivers in Nelson Rosario. Rosario is huge at 6'5" 240 and has the tools and physical approach to dominate defensive backs. He is a decent route runner, has good hands and has strong jumping ability which gives him an advantage over smaller defensive backs. Rosario has not been as productive as expected, but those shortcomings are more due to shaky quarterback play than his performance on the field. In 2011, he is the team's leading receiver with 35 catches for 614 yards but has yet to find the endzone. Notre Dame transfer and Los Angeles native Shaquelle Evans is a receiver that has play making ability but is still learning the Bruins' system. Evans has caught 11 passes for 164 yards in 2011 and will be looking to be more involved in the offense as the season winds down.
Bruin Quarterback, Kevin Prince
In the run game, the Bruins use a one two punch in tailbacks Jonathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman. Franklin is a “slasher” type runner who is tough to catch once he gets going in the open field. On the season, Franklin has run 96 times for 576 yards, averages 5.9 yards per carry and has scored three touchdowns. Coleman is a "big" back and uses his 240 pound frame to run people over and get the tough yards between the tackles. He also has the speed to break away for long runs and is the goal line runner having scored nine touchdowns in 2011. On the season, Coleman has run 84 times for 530 yards and boasts a five yard per carry average. Fullback Joseph Fauria is not featured as a runner in the offense, but is the second leading receiver on the team with 16 catches for 231 yards and is a short yardage scoring threat with four touchdowns on the year.
On the offensive line the Bruins boast a potential all-conference player in senior left tackle Jeff Baca. Baca, a 6'4" 305 pound junior, is coming off an ankle injury from spring football but improves each week and plays with a mean streak. Right tackle Mike Harris is a big boy also at 6'5" 326 pounds and is fairly athletic for a player of his size.
How the Sun Devils match up
On paper the offense is not as impressive as others in the conference, but the Bruins still have talent at key positions. The one area of the ASU defense that will need to be on high alert Friday is the front seven. Prince ran all over the field against the Bears out of the Pistol formation and will be looking to repeat that performance against ASU. This is a discipline game for the defensive line and the linebackers, very similar to what they faced in Oregon. To avoid Prince fooling them into making mistakes on their reads, they have to really trust their preparation and coaching. They have to be able to identify when UCLA is in the Pistol and then be very precise in their reactions to the run fake. The defensive line must maintain their position and also hold their lanes to allow the linebackers to “spy” Prince and bring him down hard when he decides to run. The front seven will also need to handle the Bruin running game with their two back attack. When Coleman is running the ball, he will be lowering his shoulders and attempting to run over defenders. This guy has to be tackled at the waist. Shoestring tackles or aiming too high will not work because of his strength. Franklin is the speed guy, and ASU will need to play him honest and then physically punish him when they get a chance. Shutting down the run game is key because Prince is not a prolific passer.
Making him beat you through the air plays right into the ASU defense's hands. In the secondary, Rosario and Evans need to be controlled and not allowed to break free for big catches. If these guys are smothered in coverage and the defensive line plays to its ability, it's lights out Bruins!
Ket Matchup: Burfict, Lyons and Parker vs. Prince's Pistol
Meet the Bruin defense
The Bruin defense can be described as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They are a schizophrenic unit that at times looks great and at others looks porous and inept. The running game is the Bruins' biggest weakness. They rank eleventh in the conference stopping the run allowing 184.6 yards per game. In the passing game, the Bruins have proven formidable ranking fourth in the conference allowing 238.6 yards per game. While not stellar, they have been effective and last week against Cal they played possibly their best game allowing 333 total yards, intercepting four passes and sacking Cal quarterback Zach Maynard three times.
On the defensive line, the Bruins have a play maker in Datone Jones. Jones moved from defensive end to tackle against Cal last week and had his best game of the year. The 6'5" 275 pound junior had two sacks, six total tackles including two tackles for loss. He is a very quick, strong and athletic player that can be difficult to block. He also uses his hands well and has decent closing speed. Junior Donovan Carter is also very active on the line as well and may start, but is effective off the bench and leads the defensive line with 23 tackles.
At the linebacker position, junior Pat Larimore is their best player. Larimore plays in the middle and is physical, likes to mix it up, has decent speed and leads the Bruin defense in tackles with 49. He is always around the football and will definitely need to be accounted for. Larimore has also made several big plays this season including a forced fumble. Weak side Linebacker Sean Westgate has at times been dominant and has posted 27 tackles along with two interceptions.
In the secondary, UCLA features a future star in redshirt freshman safety Tevin McDonald. McDonald had his break out game last week against Cal intercepting three passes and making seven tackles. At corner, the Bruins have experience and talent in Stan McKay and Sheldon Price. Both are solid in coverage and support the run fairly well. Price is the more active of the two with 24 tackles, an interception, five pass breakups and six defended passes. He is a guy that will make receivers pay while trying to grab less than accurate passes.
How the Sun Devils match up
The biggest question for the ASU offense will be where Datone Jones lines up. Last week he moved to tackle and had a great outing. Whether at end or tackle, he needs to be controlled. Dan Knapp or Mike Marcisz will be facing him and will need to play at their best to keep him in check and off of Brock Osweiler. Given the Bruins have been struggling to stop opposing teams from running the football, this is a game where Cameron Marshall can shine and dominate now that he is at 100%. Marshall looked like his old self last week and this is a good opportunity for him to close in on 1,000 yards for the season. In the passing game, there is no scientific formula needed to beat UCLA. With the running game moving with Marshall, the Bruins have no choice but to move an extra person in the box to neutralize the ASU rushing attack. This game presents a great check down opportunity for Brock Osweiler. If he indentifies the safety cheating up on the run, he will have the ability to check into a quick strike pass and hit the open receiver with only the free safety to beat. The Rose Bowl will not be a packed house, so crowd noise will not be a factor. Checking off the run gives ASU a huge advantage over the Bruin secondary and will open the door for Gerell Robinson, Mike Willie and company to have a monster outing.
Key Matchup: Knapp or Marcisz vs. Datone Jones
Sun Devil Wide Receiver, Mike Willie
Rick Neuheisel is doing everything he can to keep his job and UCLA still has some signs of life and something to play for at home on Saturday. Dennis Erickson is looking to continue momentum and win his first outright Pac-12 title with a victory over the Bruins. Both teams will take the field with a sense of urgency and purpose as both have realistic goals in front of them. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they lack the talent on defense necessary to stop the ASU spread offense attack. Marshall will run over the Bruins, Brock will pick them apart and the defense will harass Kevin Prince and make him a non factor. Expect the Bruins to keep it interesting for a quarter, but they will simply not be able to keep up with the fast paced ASU offense. ASU cruises in Pasadena and comes home 7-2 with a firm grip on the Pac-12 South and a potential trip back to the Rose Bowl in January.