I know some followers of this website are asking, “Where’s your review of the Oregon game—are you still in shock over Arizona State’s devastating loss to the Ducks?” The answer is yes…and no.
I’ll be honest: ASU’s trouncing at the hands of Oregon is stuck in my craw, and it will probably remain there for some time. After all, the Sun Devils squandered an opportunity to showcase their new-and-improved football program in front of a national television audience. In falling to the Ducks 43-21, they reinforced their image as a team that’s never quite ready for prime time.
However, ASU’s loss to Oregon is not explained as easily as some of their critics would like to believe (No, Todd Graham was not out-coached by Chip Kelly. Will Sutton’s injury on the second play of the game was devastating to the Sun Devils’ psyche. How well would USC fare against Oregon if Matt Barkley went down?).
Regardless of the outcome last Thursday, it’s time for ASU and its fans to move on. A major test awaits against UCLA. Beat the Bruins, and the outlook for the remainder of the 2012 campaign brightens up once again. Lose to your opponent from Westwood, Calif., and the question marks only grow larger.
UCLA (5-2) currently boasts their best record to this point in the season in five years. It’s only the fifth time in the last 14 seasons the Bruins have been 5-2 or better through the first seven games. However, mid-season records can be deceiving; in 2003 and 2007, UCLA started 5-2 only to finish 6-7. In 2001, they started 6-1 and finished 7-4.
UCLA faces a tough test in its next five contests, with games against ASU (5-2), USC (5-1) and Stanford (4-2) on the horizon. “We’re about to see what kind of team we are,” star running back Johnathan Franklin said. “We had some success in the first half of our season and now we’re going to see how we can deal with it, and how we can handle it, and how hard we want to work and how bad we want it.”
This Saturday’s ASU-UCLA game is an intriguing match-up. The Sun Devil defense needs to contain Bruins offense coordinator Noel Mazzone’s productive unit, which is anchored by Franklin and quarterback Brett Hundley (who hails from Chandler, AZ). This will be no easy task, since ASU must make up for the absence of Sutton (whose status is now listed as “week-by-week” after he was diagnosed with a hyper-extended knee). Sutton was key to stopping the run and pressuring the passer on an under-sized defensive line.
On the flip side, Mazzone’s offensive approach is no secret in Tempe. Indeed, the ex-ASU offensive coordinator’s screen pass calls became infamous among the Sun Devil faithful. Mazzone is undoubtedly searching for different ingredients for his all-too-familiar playbook.
Arizona State has been in this position before. After last year’s painful 29-28 loss to UCLA, the Sun Devils’ fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse. ASU lost the remainder of its games, including a rout at the hands of the Boise State Broncos in the Maaco Bowl.
ASU coach Todd Graham will earn his pay if the Sun Devils are to prevail over UCLA. I think he’s up to the task.
DevilsInDetail.com Prediction: Arizona State: 30, UCLA: 25