ASU football to host UCLA in final home game of the 2018 season

Seniors say goodbye to Sun Devil Stadium as team takes on the Bruins

Saturday marks the final home game of the season for ASU football (5-4, 3-3), and it is possibly the Sun Devils' most important game as they fight to stay in the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 South.

A win over the visiting UCLA Bruins goes a long way for securing ASU’s chances of representing the South in the Pac-12 championship and would complete the Sun Devils first sweep of their LA-area rivals since 2013. 

Saturday will also serve as a celebration for the bevy of seniors playing their final game in Sun Devil Stadium, with key contributors like quarterback Manny Wilkins and defensive lineman Renell Wren saying goodbye to Sun Devil nation for the final time. 

“This is my last game at Sun Devil Stadium, and I know it’s going to be very emotional,” Wilkins said. “I’ve put (in) a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, and I grew up tremendously here. This place will forever be special to me. I know when I walk out of that tunnel for the last time it’s going to be hard to comprehend it.” 

A three-year starter, Wilkins describes his journey at ASU as the ‘story of a boy turning into a man. His growth as a quarterback and team leader has not come without difficulties, as Wilkins has been straddled with a revolving door at offensive coordinator. 

In his four seasons suiting up for the Sun Devils, Wilkins has played for four different coordinators. The effect of that instability is not lost on Wilkins, who knows more than anyone just how treacherous his path has been. 

“I’ve been through so much, so many opportunities to just give up, so many opportunities to just accept what was being put in front of me,” Wilkins said. “But that’s not how I was raised. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I look forward to giving Sun Devil nation, my teammates, my coaches, this program, and this university a win in my last time here.”

Few teammates of Wilkins share his confidence, as the majority of the team speaks with a more reserved optimism. ASU has won two straight games, and the road to the Pac-12 championship game for the Sun Devils has become very clear — win the final three games, and they're in.

Saturday’s test at home versus the 2-7 Bruins is likely the easiest of the three remaining contests, as the Sun Devils finish their season on a two-game road trip against the 6-3 Oregon Ducks and the 5-5 UA Wildcats. 

“This is a good football team,” said head coach Herm Edwards of UCLA. “They can move the ball. They can do some things on defense to discourage you. We have to be prepared, there are a lot of distractions like Senior Day. All these things become part of how do you deal with that, and I think so far I think our players are focused on football on the field.”

While Edwards' comments are kind, they are also partly untrue as there isn’t much discouraging going on from the UCLA defense. The Bruins currently rank 107th in FBS rushing defense, allowing opponents an average of 208.2 yards per game. 

UCLA isn’t much better through the air, as the Bruins have allowed an average of 229.6 passing yards per game, good for 65th in the country. For an ASU offense coming off its most dominant performance of the year, Wilkins is confident. 

“Last week was pretty special. I think that was a very good game for us,” Wilkins said. “It was one of the few times, at least since I’ve been a starter here that I just felt like there wasn’t anything that was going to be able to stop us. We were all clicking on the same page, defense was playing well, people on the sideline were smiling. You know, we were just so cheerful and joyful."

ASU found unexpected success running the ball last week, as Utah came in with one of the stingiest front-sevens in the country. Yet sophomore running back Eno Benjamin was effective from his first handoff, gashing the Utes defense with 175 yards and two touchdowns. 

It’s just one of a handful of magical performances that have defined possibly the greatest rushing season in ASU history. Benjamin only trails Woody Green, the current single-season rushing leader, by 452 yards with at least three but as many as five games remaining. 

“It’s one of those things where we’re like 'let’s see how much we can get him, what can he do with a little bit of extra time running the ball' or you give him a little bit more of a hole or a little bit more of a crease,” said junior center Cohl Cabral. “How much is he going to be able to hit it for? It’s kind of fun because when you see him and you’re like I gave him four inches and he hit it for 60, what happens if I give him four feet? Now he can hit it for 100 yards.”

Saturday is not only an important game in terms of standings, it also serves as an achievement for a senior class that has taken a long journey to where they currently stand. 

A Pac-12 championship berth would be an incredible accomplishment for a group of seniors who have endured a change at head coach and almost yearly switches at each coordinator position. Their perseverance has come to define ASU as a whole.

“We’re going to miss all those guys,” said defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales. “And if they look back and this thing goes the way we plan, and we become the most physically dominant team in this league like we can be, those guys set the foundation. They can look back with a bunch of pride, and if we continue to play good and we beat UCLA then the next one becomes bigger and that’s because of them.”

Reach the reporter at or follow @jacobrosenfarb on Twitter. 

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