Coming off its 18-point loss to Utah last week, ASU football has its sights set on the UCLA Bruins (2-5, 2-2 Pac-12).
After a 0-3 start, UCLA knocked off Stanford last Thursday and enters Saturday's clash with ASU well-rested.
1. Despite UCLA's 2-5 start, head coach Chip Kelly is known for being an offensive guru. What is the identity of this Chip Kelly-led offense?
Sam Connon: It's been kind of up in the air early. The offensive line was thin to start the year. So last year when you had the offensive line developing towards the end, a lot of that progress went out the window. Along with that went the running game, which was the identity last year. So you lose the running game to an extent because Joshua Kelley is hurt to start the year and your offensive line is young and thin.
A lot was thrust on (quarterback) Dorian Thompson-Robinson and he was iffy those first three games but the Washington State game got him on track. He's really been comfortable moving outside the pocket, knowing when to scramble and run. A lot of the offense is relying on him. Now that Joshua Kelley is back and they have Demetric Felton, who's really dynamic, I think Chip Kelly will really have the weapons he wants. Now that the running backs are healthy and DTR is more confident, I think everything will take shape.
2. Specifically, what challenges do Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Joshua Kelley present?
Connon: Robinson came out of high school as a dual threat and he really didn't show it last year. Now, he's showing what he can do with his legs. He's one of the fastest guys on the team.
Joshua Kelley is not exactly a power back but he's more balanced. He's not exactly a receiver so running it up the middle finally started working for UCLA last week against Stanford. He broke out for a big game. That's a lot of what he did last year.
3. The ASU offense can be explosive but given its shuffling of the offensive line, how does UCLA match up defensively?
Connon: Over the past two years, UCLA has had a dismal pass rush. Last week, they played an inexperienced quarterback and Stanford had only six or seven offensive linemen on the roster. They really took advantage and had seven sacks. If they keep that momentum going and take advantage of another thin offensive line, I think that would be huge for the defense.
When it comes to the secondary, outside the numbers, they've been really weak this year, even with Darnay Holmes, who's projected to be a really high NFL draft pick. The rest of the corners and safeties have been playing average. If ASU can give the quarterback enough time to make those plays outside, that's how ASU can win the game.
Connon: If it's a low-scoring game, I think that's where ASU wins because they have experience winning those games. In games UCLA has played pretty good defense, that's when the offense struggles. I think UCLA has a better shot in a shootout than if the game is in the teens or lower.
5. What is your prediction on how the game will shake out?
Connon: I really want to lean towards a UCLA win just because if they lose, the season is over. But if they win, somehow they turned a 1-5 start into actually competing in the Pac-12, which is just ridiculous. A UCLA win is super necessary for the season but at the same time, the same thing happened last year and they got blown out by Utah. I'm hesitant to pick UCLA but just because I'm optimistic some things will change, I'll pick UCLA 34-27.