After allowing UCLA to convert on five of its first six third downs, ASU football gained traction as the game progressed.
Recovery. That’s about the best way to describe ASU’s defensive effort against UCLA.
The Bruins came out of the gates taking shots, and it worked. Over UCLA’s first three drives, the team accumulated 188 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
But it didn’t translate to three touchdowns. Instead, UCLA ended its first three drives with a touchdown, a field goal and a turnover on downs.
While the Bruins finished the game with 28 points, seven of those were from a Manny Wilkins interception returned for a touchdown. In reality, ASU’s defense only gave up three scores, an impressive feat considering the Bruins combined for 439 yards of offense.
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Perhaps the most notable defensive improvement the Sun Devils made during the game was third-down defense. UCLA started the game 5-for-6 on third down but finished the game 7-for-14.
“We adjusted for the most part,” Edwards said. “(We) got them in some bad downs on first downs, made some negative plays.”
Coming into the game, UCLA running back Joshua Kelley was expected to be the catalyst for the Bruins. He had run for 100-plus yards in five of UCLA’s last six games. That wasn’t the case.
Though Kelley still posted a solid stat line, rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown, his production was limited. He averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, significantly down from his average of 5.9 in his last six.
“We just had to shut down the middle and make them run side to side,” defensive lineman Tyler Johnson said. “That was our main goal.”
For the Bruins, the passing game clicked.
“We made some plays there, but the tight end was the one,” Edwards said. “We tried a bunch of different coverages. He’s probably open right now.”
Even though Arizona State had trouble containing Wilson, the Sun Devils’ pass defense made some key plays.
Cornerback Chase Lucas was responsible for an interception in the third quarter, and the Sun Devils scored on the subsequent drive.
On the defensive line, Tyler Johnson was a wrecking ball. The redshirt freshman defensive lineman made two crucial sacks, one of which came in the final minutes of the game.
Because of his youth, Johnson will likely be a force for ASU’s defense the rest of the season and for years to come.
“I think it’s going to serve us well down the road,” Edwards said. “He’s been a big factor.”