ASU Football: Do the Sun Devils have a chance vs. UCLA?


Heading into last weekend’s contest against the University of Southern California, we here at Devils in Detail tried to maintain some optimism for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Despite three lackluster performances, even if two of them were wins, there was hope that they could put it together against a suspect USC defense, if their offense came through for them. None of those things happened, and the Devils were demolished on their home turf, along with spirits in Tempe regarding the future of this team in 2015.

But while the road to redemption for the remainder of the season is paved with tremendous obstacles, featuring names like UCLAUtah, and Oregon, as well as a home tilt against the University of Arizona, there is still ample time for the Devils to rebound from last weekend’s embarrassment. And it starts with a road contest this week against the Bruins of UCLA. We’re approaching this game with cautious optimism, as this is a UCLA team that dismantled the rival Wildcats last weekend, and could very well provide ASU football with nightmarish flashbacks to what the Trojans did to them last weekend.

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There are reasons to be very afraid of this UCLA team. While they’re sixth in the conference in scoring, they’re still averaging 37.8 points per game (over 12 more than the Devils), while fielding a defense that has the fourth-lowest points against per game thus far, at 18.0 to the opposition. Their offense is averaging 482.0 yards per game, with the bulk of that coming from a rushing game that has racked up 233.8 YPG. The defense is allowing about 361 YPG, good for fifth in the conference. Just looking at things in generalities, those are some numbers that will likely scare supporters of the Sun Devils. And they probably should.

After all, this is an ASU defense that has been obliterated by the run this season, ranking 10th in the conference with 180.5 rushing yards against per game. Their offense, scoring-wise, has produced just 25.0 points per game, which ranks 11th in the conference. Again, in a general sense, those types of factors could very well have the Devils quaking in their boots. However, we’re going to continue to take the optimistic perspective here. There are reasons that ASU football should absolutely fear the Bruins. But at the same time, there are going to be some opportunities for the Sun Devils to have some success, and that could lead to them making a run at an upset on the road against UCLA.

As a group, ASU ranks 10th in the conference in rushing. But as an individual Demario Richard ranks seventh in the conference with 99.3 rushing YPG. He ranks second in the Pac-12 overall with 158.7 all-purpose yards per game. The ASU run defense has been poor, but UCLA is surrendering almost 200 yards on the ground per game. That should bode well for the ASU rushing attack, between the combination of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. There’s an opportunity for success.

It’s not as if Mike Bercovici has been a failure, in any sense. He’s third in the conference in passing yards and has only thrown two interceptions through four games. As we’ve said before, it’s a matter of opening up the offense a bit in order to get him some success downfield. With another week for Devin Lucien to get healthier (in addition to his added motivation as a UCLA transfer) and the continued emergence of Tim White, one has to imagine that we’ll see Bercovici find success in the passing game sooner or later. With the heat that Mike Norvell is likely feeling, we should see an improved gameplan against the Bruins.

Of course, it won’t be easy against a Bruins defense that ranks second in the conference in pass yards against per game. None of this is going to be easy, though. UCLA is nearly a two touchdown favorite over the Devils heading into the weekend. A lot of things are going to have to go the way of ASU football. And they’re going to have to avoid shooting themselves in the foot as often and as brutally as the Devils have, with their turnovers and red zone failures. It’s a situation not unlike the one the Sun Devils faced last week.

The Bruins are going to put points on the board. It’ll be on the ASU defense to force Josh Rosen, UCLA’s true freshman quarterback, to make some freshman-like mistakes, while the onus is on the offense to produce (primarily via Demario Richard) and avoid the mistakes that cost them so dearly last weekend against the Trojans. The reasons for optimism are few and far between, but they exist. It wouldn’t be a shock to see this one go down to the wire, if this talented team takes advantage of the chances that they have and avoid beating themselves as much as the Devils have in recent weeks.

**Statistics via Pac-12

Randy Holt is the managing editor for Devils in Detail. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.