Even though it is early in the season, UCLA’s matchup against ASU has huge Pac-12 South implications.
Coming into this game, the Bruins (5-2, 2-2) have had a very similar road as the Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1). Both teams tripped up against a Pac-12 North team and both remain undefeated in the south.
A victory for either team puts them ahead in the race for the championship.
After handling Utah at home, UCLA is coming off a bye week before facing ASU at home. The Sun Devils are coming off a tough loss against No. 4 Oregon and are looking to rebound.
To be effective against ASU, the Bruins will have to rely on what has given them success so far this season: their run game.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley and redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin create a two-headed beast in the backfield.
Franklin has been effective this season by leading the conference in rushing with 878 yards so far. Hundley is second on the team in rushing with 240 yards and five rushing TDs.
Coach Jim Mora said the main concern is going up against the strong ASU defense.
The Sun Devils’ defense, however, sustained some injuries in its past game against Oregon, especially up front. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Will Sutton is still doubtful for the game. Junior defensive end Junior Onyeali is likely to play but will be battling some injuries.
Hundley played his high school football career in Arizona. Mora said he is not worried about Hundley being distracted by coming home.
“With Brett, what you see is a kid that is very level-headed at all times,” Mora said. “That’s what we’ve seen since spring ball, is a guy that’s kind of unaffected on game day by the environment, by what’s happening in the game. He maintains great focus, and that is a sign of his maturity.”
In his first year at starting quarterback, Hundley has made an impact throwing for almost 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Hundley is a very mobile quarterback and can make some nice throws on the run. The same can be said of ASU redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly.
When defenses usually prepare for quarterbacks, they usually want to put pressure on the passer and force him out of the pocket.
According to Mora, the UCLA defense has the opposite idea.
“(Kelly) throws very well on the move,” Mora said. “I think it is really important to keep him in the pocket as best as you can in order to eliminate his ability to get outside the pocket and make those unique throws that he makes.”
One player that will be trying to force Kelly out of the pocket is junior linebacker Anthony Barr. Barr is currently No. 3 in the conference with 7.5 sacks.
Barr took an interesting path to becoming one of the top pass-rushers in the conference.
He came to UCLA as a touted offensive recruit and played his first two seasons as running back and tight end. Last spring, he switched positions and is now making his biggest impact.
“To me, he’s as good of player that I have seen all year on defense,” Mora said. “To make the transformation from an offensive player to a defensive player … it’s really amazing that he has been able to make the transformation as easily as he has.”
Last season, the Bruins were able to defend their home field and defeat the Sun Devils. They now move to Tempe and hope the winning continues there.
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