Game Preview: ASU football's search for bowl eligibility could end against UCLA

The Sun Devils are aiming to capture their third-straight win versus the Bruins

ASU football is just one win away from bowl eligibility, a feat the Sun Devils (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12) haven’t accomplished since 2015. With all of the offseason negativity surrounding head coach Todd Graham, a barrel of transfers and a lack of stability at quarterback left ASU with low expectations. ASU could leave Pasadena, CA. with a bowl game in sight if the team beats the UCLA Bruins (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12). 

To be or not to be

As ASU prepares for the Bruins, the team will do so without assurance of who will be UCLA’s starting quarterback. Junior quarterback Josh Rosen is still recovering from a concussion he suffered two weeks ago against the No. 9 Washington Huskies (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12). Yet, to be cleared in concussion protocol, reports are indicating Rosen will play on Saturday. 

If Rosen does return versus the Sun Devils, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said the defense will need to be prepared. 

“Rosen is a heck of a passer,” Bennett said. “If you give him a bunch of time … you could get in trouble."

Rosen has carved his place as a top FBS quarterback, throwing for 2,713 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2017. 

Nevertheless, Rosen and the Bruins’ offense is continuing their unexpected free fall. UCLA has won just one of its last four games, and opposing teams have averaged 38 points a game against the Bruins in the last four weeks. 

Running with the devil

The Sun Devils are coming off their best performance on the ground this season, and next on the list is a Bruins’ run defense that has surrendered at least 240 rushing yards in each of the last four games. 

Unfortunately for UCLA, ASU’s senior running back Demario Richard is coming off a collegiate career-high of 189 rushing yards. Not to mention, freshman tailback Eno Benjamin is just a game removed from scoring his first touchdown as a Sun Devil. 

“I’m back to being the same kid I was …  just a lot more mature and more understanding of the game,” Richard said.

In the Bruins’ five losses this season, they’ve allowed teams to run for an average of 325.8 yards and three touchdowns per game. 

Whereas, the Sun Devils have rushed for a total of 586 yards and five scores in just the team’s last two wins. 

Under pressure

The Bruins have a measly 15 sacks on the season, compared to the Sun Devils who had that total in the first four games. 

With redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins coming off his best dual-threat performance of the season, there is seemingly endless potential in what he could accomplish this weekend. 

As Wilkins looks to add to his season total of 2,298 passing yards, a weak Bruins’ front gives ASU’s lead quarterback the opportunity to pick apart UCLA’s secondary and ultimately secure bowl eligibility. 

To top it off, the season-long progression of the offensive line stood out last week. If they replicate this offensive performance, Wilkins will have every chance to lead ASU into California with nothing but confidence.

“I think the offensive line did a really good job,” Wilkins said. “Tackles did a good job of setting the pocket at the top. Guards were really firm up front. I think I can do a better job of completing a couple of balls here and there, but at the end of the day we did what we had to do.”

Predictions

The predictions below come from The State Press football reporters: Anthony Totri, Mark Harris and Joe Jacquez. The number next to the reporter is their record in predicting the winner each week.

Anthony Totri (3-6): ASU beats UCLA 33-30

Mark Harris (4-5): ASU beats UCLA 34-27

Joe Jacquez (4-5): ASU beats UCLA 28-21

*Statistics were retrieved from espn.com


Reach the reporter at atotri@asu.edu or follow @Anthony_Totri on Twitter.   

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