The Bruins and Sun Devils are set to duke it out with the top spot in the Pac-12 South on the line.
No. 20 UCLA football (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) will play Arizona State (3-1, 1-0) at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. The Bruins have won each of their last two meetings with the Sun Devils and own a solid 22-14-1 lead in the all-time series, which has been a staple since the late 1970s.
All Bruins is making its picks for who will win, what the score will be and how the game will play out, courtesy of Managing Editor Sam Connon, contributing writer Benjamin Royer and guest predictor Wills Rice from ArizonaSports.com.
Sam Connon, Managing Editor
Prediction: UCLA 34, Arizona State 24
How you think Saturday's game will play out probably correlates pretty closely to how much weight you put into the 2020 season.
Some people say – especially for the Pac-12 – it was a lost cause and to write it off altogether. Teams were robbed of offseason workouts and hampered by positive COVID tests and contact tracing, resulting in a shortened season that didn't mean all that much in the end.
Other people claim it was a relatively even playing field, with every team struggling to fight the same pandemic and working on roughly the same timelines as their conference opponents.
I fall into the latter category, which is why I put a good amount of stock into UCLA's 25-17 win over Arizona State last December.
While both offenses are more finely tuned and overall improved from last fall, the game could very easily play out in a similar fashion it did back then. The Bruins will get out to an early lead, let the Sun Devils back into it, then barely pull away late and make the big plays when it really counts. That's how they beat Stanford last week, and it's how they're going to take down Arizona State as well.
As has been evident so far this season, starting on the right foot isn't even remotely dependent on quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who has a 119.7 passer rating in first halves compared to his 227.0 mark in second halves. He's more of a guy who sticks the nail in the coffin than he is the guy who comes out of the gates firing on all cylinders, and that's ok for a team with Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown in the backfield helping control tempo and time of possession.
So for the third year in a row, it will be Thompson-Robinson and Chip Kelly coming out on top over Jayden Daniels and Herm Edwards.
Benjamin Royer, contributing writer
Prediction: UCLA 38, Arizona State 17
The Bruins will find solace in their position heading into Saturday night’s #Pac12AfterDark matchup with the Sun Devils, but Herm Edwards’s squad brings a different challenge than what they have come up against so far.
Luckily, UCLA is well positioned to stop what its Pac-12 foes have in store on offense.
Opposing teams preparing for a trip to Pasadena will be licking their lips if getting the ball downfield is part of their game plan. UCLA has allowed 330.3 passing yards per game so far and has struggled against teams with high-talent quarterbacks. Jayden Daniels is a formidable opponent in the pocket, but unfortunately for him, the Sun Devils offense is not built on airing it out.
Daniels does get ample yardage on the ground though, averaging 62 yards per game on 6.9 yards per carry. That, combined with the running back duo of Rachaad White and Daniyel Ngata, allows for Arizona State to get its big plays on the ground for most of its drives.
The trio is what makes UCLA’s Saturday different than most game days. Kelly will be banking on the early-season success that the run defense has had. The defensive line and players such as Qwuantrezz Knight have succeeded in the first four games, allowing just 64 rushing yards per game. Knight leads the Bruins’ defense in tackles and tackles for loss, made possible by savvy play-calling from the sideline.
The Bruins should stop the run comfortably out of the gates, forcing the Sun Devils to adjust and get out of their comfort zone coming back out for the second half.
UCLA’s offense will find its footing early, on the other hand. Charbonnet is a force in the backfield that will catch the eyes of any scouts there to see Daniels and White. Look for receiver Kam Brown to continue to make a name for himself with Bruin fans too.
Thompson-Robinson will throw a rare interception, of which he has only one through four games, but that just goes to show how the competition level increases entering Pac-12 play. The Sun Devils have had success with stopping the passing game early, allowing only 124.3 yards per game in the air.
Seemingly a difficult challenge, Kelly’s Bruins will not mind it at all and are bound to come out on top again, improving to 2-0 in Pac-12 play. Even though the game is past AP voters' bedtimes on the East Coast, UCLA will still find its way to rise up the rankings for the second consecutive week.
Wills Rice, Content Editor at ArizonaSports.com
Prediction: Arizona State 38, UCLA 35
Arizona State has historically struggled with running quarterbacks.
Whether it was a 2016 matchup against in-state rival Arizona – in which the Wildcats put up over 500 rushing yards, 183 coming from quarterback Brandon Dawkins – or Thompson-Robinson, it seems to be an achilles heel.
How good the 2021 version of the Sun Devils can be is still a mystery. This was supposed to be the best defense the team has put in Tempe in recent memory, but penalties and mental errors have not allowed this team to reach expectations as of yet. Daniels has first round pick potential, but still seems to be running the offense with the training wheels attached.
All that being said, I expect UCLA’s two-headed rushing attack to be the difference in tonight's game. Behind Daniels and ASU’s three running backs, you know what you are going to get. If the Bruins can establish the run and allow for DTR to successfully complete play action throws while rolling outside the pocket, it may be a long night for the Sun Devils.
On the opposite side, if ASU is able to control the clock as they often do, keep the penalties low and not force Daniels to win the game single-handedly, then we will see an advantage for the Devils.
In a game that may decide the South, ASU must improve on their penalty yardage per game. They are currently averaging 10.75 penalties for close to 100 yards per game. Under a Herm Edwards-coached team, you have to ask if the current NCAA investigation is on this team’s mind.
Follow Connon on Twitter at @SamConnon
Follow Royer on Twitter at @thebenroyer
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