Bruins aiming for control of Pac-12 South
It is hard to be successful without consistency, but that is exactly what the UCLA Bruins have done so far this season.
Although they have yet to win back-to-back games, the Bruins control their own destiny heading into Saturday’s matchup with ASU.
“We are looking forward to Saturday at the Rose Bowl against a very, very good Arizona State team,” UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. “We realize it is a challenge to slow down their offense and to score points against their vaunted defense, but we are excited about the challenge.”
While the Bruins (4-4, 3-2) know the No. 19 Sun Devils (6-2, 4-1) pose a significant challenge, an upset victory would put UCLA in first place in the Pac-12 South. The Bruins are looking to improve upon their 3-1 home record this season and sustain the momentum they captured during an impressive 31-14 victory over the California Golden Bears.
“Now that we know what we’re capable of when we focus and put our full attention to the task at hand … we have to bring it like we did last week,” Neuheisel said. “Does that guarantee success? No, but it gives us our best chance.”
The Bruins offense, led by junior quarterback Kevin Prince, will need to protect the football as they line up across from an ASU defense that has forced 25 turnovers this season.
With elite quarterbacks and spread offenses, the Pac-12 is not often regarded as a physical conference, but the Bruins will try to play physical against the Sun Devils.
“I was really pleased that (Prince) ran as physically as he did the other night,” Neuheisel said. “That’s got to be where we plant our flag so to speak. We’ve got to play physically.”
Prince led the Bruins with 163 rushing yards versus Cal, but junior running back Johnathan Franklin, who is averaging six yards per carry this season, leads the team in rushing.
Things will not get any easier for the Bruins on the other side of the ball as they attempt to slow down an ASU offense averaging 439 yards per game.
“We have our hands full,” Neuheisel said. “We are absolutely mindful of what it is going to take this weekend.”
Junior quarterback Brock Osweiler has thrown for over 300 yards in two of his last three games and junior running back Cameron Marshall leads the conference with 12 rushing touchdowns, but the Bruins will rely on junior linebacker Pat Larimore and freshman safety Tevin McDonald.
Larimore leads the team in tackles with 49 while McDonald was the recognized as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week last week after he intercepted three Cal passes.
“We’re excited about Tevin and have been since he signed with us,” Neuheisel said. “I think he’s started to turn the corner. He’s playing within the scheme (and) the other night was a big night.”
However, Neuheisel admitted McDonald’s high football IQ sometimes causes problems as he gets caught out of position trying to make too many plays. While the Bruins like his playmaking mentality, it may be a bit of a liability against ASU’s passing attack, which is designed to confuse the opponent’s secondary.
The Bruins will enter Saturday’s contest as the underdog, but know anything can happen if they keep the game close as they are outscoring opponents 61-40 in the fourth quarter.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com