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It was a heartbreaker of a loss for the Arizona State Sun Devils in more ways than one. Besides being handed a rough last-minute loss by the UCLA Bruins on Saturday, the two teams are now locked in a tie for first place in the Pac-12 South. From here on out, both teams will be hoping that the other team's season gets spoiled.
ASU still has a chance to make the Pac-12 Championship Game, and are still hoping to make the top three in the conference. If they should happen to finish at number three, they would be in line for a spot at the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl. Prior to the UCLA loss, they were projected to play in the Valero Alamo Bowl, and they still have a good chance of making it there. If they drop another game, they may have to settle for the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
These last few weeks of the season will be crucial, and you can bet that the Sun Devils will be watching the scoreboard to see what UCLA and the other Pac-12 teams are doing from week to week. Every win and loss directly impacts ASU's bowl game possibilities.
Your 2011 College Football Bowl Schedule can be found right here.
Some things, now matter how much effort is put into changing them, never change. Such is the case with Arizona State's self-destructive tendencies.
Once thought as an absolute certainty, the Sun Devils' dream of a Pac-12 South division title and spot in the conference championship game are now in jeopardy after their game against UCLA. Last season's on-going nightmare--misses in the kicking game--returned with a malicious vengeance on Saturday night.
The first quarter began much like most of ASU's road games this season. After a Sun Devil punt on the opening drive, the Bruins methodically drove 89-yards in eight plays, highlighted by two Kevin Prince runs for 48 yards. The drive ended successfully with an 11-yard touchdown run by Johnathan Franklin.
As they had many times this season, the Sun Devil offense responded. Behind the strong running of Cameron Marshall, the Devil drove into Bruin territory where Brock Osweiler found wide receiver A.J. Pickens on a crossing pattern for a 36-yard touchdown.
The running games for both teams were in full force for the remainder of the first half.
Marshall scored a 14-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, but the Bruins tandem of Franklin and Derrick Coleman led the way for resurgence late, as a Coleman touchdown gave UCLA the halftime lead. The teams combined for 225 rushing yards in the first half, led by Marshall's 102.
The second half got off to a disastrous start for Arizona State.
On the opening drive, UCLA took advantage of a Sun Devil defense that was cheating towards the run. A brilliantly executed play action and pump fake allowed Prince to find a wide open Nelson Rosario for a 76-yard touchdown, extending the Bruins' lead to 23-14.
The ASU defense was later bailed out when a 40-yard Franklin run was negated by penalty. That backed the Bruins up inside their own five-yard line, and the resulting punt gave the Sun Devils a short field to work with.
They capitalized, as their ensuing five play drive ended with a dazzling Jamal Miles touchdown reception that featured an amazing spin move, closing the gap to 23-21.
As the fourth quarter began, things looked bleak for ASU. UCLA was continuing to gash the defensive front of the Sun Devils and moved inside the ASU 30-yard line. However, the nations' fifth best turnover defense forced a Franklin fumble and recovered it to thwart the Bruin threat.
The ensuing drive went nowhere and the Devils were forced to punt.
However, they got the ball back with 11:07 left in the game at their own seven. In a masterful drive, ASU's top playmakers-Osweiler, Marshall and Gerrell Robinson-methodically moved down the field. Marshall ran for 39 yards and Robinson had 49 yards receiving on a drive that culminated in a Osweiler rushing touchdown on a goal line sneak.
The good fortune seemed to continue. The ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Josh Smith, with ASU's Brandon Johnson recovering. However, the drive stalled and the 36-yard field goal by Alex Garoutte was missed as he shanked it wide left.
That miss would loom large.
Behind the hard running of Coleman, the Bruins drove down the field. However, after an offensive pass interference call set up a third and 29 for UCLA at the ASU 39-yard line. Prince was able to exploit blown coverage by Alden Darby to find Rosario for a gain of 33. Three plays later, Coleman pounded the ball in for the go head score. The ensuing two-point conversion was no good and UCLA took a narrow 29-28 lead.
The final drive was rife with controversy.
Osweiler found Robinson near midfield, but as he was going down, he inexplicably threw the ball forward and out of bounds. However, after review, it was determined his knee was down, thus negating the penalty. On the next play, a defensive pass interference call moved the ball to the Bruins' 41, and a 12-yard reception by Mike Willie gave Garoutte a chance for redemption with a 46-yard attempt.
The snap was good. The hold was good.
The kick was terrible, falling short and wide right.
UCLA is now in first place in the South division, and ASU now needs some help to make it to what was once thought a certainty-the Pac-12 title game.
Arizona State found the going tougher to move the ball against a spirited UCLA defense as the second quarter progressed, as the Bruins adjusted their scheme after the Devils took a 14-6 lead one minute into the quarter on Cameron Marshall’s 14-yard TD run.
A long kickoff return set the Bruins up in prime position at the ASU 19, but UCLA went backward because of two big defensive plays and an incomplete pass that was close to being a fumble. The Bruins did get a 43-yard field goal, however, and trailed 14-9 with 12:17 left.
The Bruins forced a three-and-out and ate up clock with their next drive, running back Derrick Coleman carrying the load as the Bruins moved the ball. A personal-foul penalty on ASU DE Junior Onyeali added yardage to the drive, and UCLA converted a fourth down and got a 21-yard pass to play to put the Bruins in prime scoring position. Coleman’s 1-yard run gave UCLA a 16-14 lead with 4:25 left in the quarter.
Alex Garoutte missed a 48-yard field goal late in the quarter that could have given ASU the lead. The kick wasn't close. The Bruins got a big play after the took over possession but it was called back due to penalty.
The Sun Devils trailed at the half for the third time this season and are winless the other two times.
The Arizona State Sun Devils and UCLA Bruins are locked in a crucial Pac-12 South battle. The Devils have a one game advantage in the standings and can take a firm grip on the first-ever division title and earn a trip to the Pac-12 Conference Championship game.
The Sun Devils offense looks extremely effective through the air and on the ground. A healthy Cameron Marshall ran for 64 yards on nine carries while Brock Osweiler went 6-7 for 104 yards through the air in the first quarter.
The UCLA Bruins scored first and then failed to convert the PAT but ASU came right back with a 81-yard drive capped off by a 35-yard touchdown pass play from Osweiler to A.J. Pickens.
The Bruins were most effective with their quarterback Kevin Prince running the ball (53 yards on three carries) but he only threw for 19 yards in the first quarter.
The Devils scored again on a 97-yard drive to take a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter. Marshall scored the touchdown on a 14-yard run. The Bruins defense seems to have no answer for ASU so far in the game.
Heading into one of the biggest games of the season, the Arizona State Sun Devils are healthy and ready to go. The injury report is short and sweet this week for ASU and every impact player is expected to play.
This is not the case for the UCLA Bruins. The team has been battered all season by injuries and suspensions and that will be the case once again on Saturday afternoon. Eight players are on the injury report and one is suspended. And this is on a team that has struggled to find consistency on both sides of the ball in 2011 and has a head coach on the hot seat.
Here is Ted Miller's final injury report:
CB Deveron Carr, concussion, probable
TE Trevor Kohl, shoulder, questionable
OT Evan Finkenberg, knee, questionable
QB Richard Brehaut, leg, doubtful
P Jeff Locke, shoulder, probable
OG Chris Ward, knee, out
S Dietrich Riley, neck, out
S Tony Dye, neck, out
TE John Young, knee, out
LB David Allen, knee, probable
DE Iuta Tepa, back, probable
DT Cassius Marsh, suspended, out
Fans should be in for a great day of football in Los Angeles.
For the Arizona State Sun Devils, this week's game against the UCLA Bruins may be the biggest remaining on their schedule. While every game obviously has big implications in the grand scheme of things, a win in Los Angeles would all but clinch the Pac-12 South and set the team up for a potential BCS bowl bid down the road.
For the Bruins, this game is all about building off their victory last weekend. Despite inconsistent performances throughout the year on both sides of the ball, UCLA still has a chance in the Pac-12 and needs a signature victory on their resumé. That could happen on Saturday afternoon.
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. locally in Los Angeles.
TV Coverage: The game will be broadcast live on Versus.
Radio: KTAR 620-AM; Sirius 139, XM 193
Weather Forecast: It should be a beautiful night for football in SoCal. Temperatures will be in the high-50's and no rain is expected.
Opening Line: ASU enters as eight-point favorites.
It seems that most Sun Devil fans (and perhaps some players) are now fully expecting Arizona State to win the Pac-12 South division and play for the conference title and a berth in the Rose Bowl. While that still seems to be a safe bet, the reality is that the UCLA Bruins are only one game behind the Sun Devils in the division, meaning that Saturday's game in Pasadena carries with it serious implications.
So how can ASU leave California with the dvision nearly locked up?
Here are the top five keys in this weeks installment of "4th and Goal".
1st - Take the R-U-N from Bruin
The Bruins are a very average football team in many areas, and outright bad in others. However, their primary strength is their running game, led by the tailback tandem of Jonathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman.
Given roughly equal carries, Franklin leads the team with 565 yards while Coleman is tied for second in the Pac-12 (behind ASU's Cameron Marshall's 12) with nine rushing touchdown. Together, they are averaging 5.5 yards per carry and comprise the best duo in the conference outside of Eugene.
As a team, the Bruins have run 308 times and only thrown 106 passes. Their offense contains little surprise, so it'll be paramount for ASU's front seven to shut down the running game, something they have struggled with at times.
2nd - Make Kevin Prince Beat You
The primary benefit in accomplishing the above goal is that it would force the onus of the Bruins' offense on quarterback Kevin Prince.
Quite simply, Prince is a bad quarterback. While a good athlete, he's never been able to handle the passing and mental demands that make quarterbacks...well, quarterbacks. In limited action over the last two seasons, Prince has only completed 48.2-percent of his passes with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. Against Texas earlier this year, he completed as many passes to Longhorn defenders (three) as Bruins receivers.
Given the ASU defense's tremendous ability to generate turnovers this season (they are fourth in the nation with 25), Prince would surely commit multiple turnovers if thrust into a playmaking role.
3rd - Start Fast
Last week, Arizona State was the heavy favorite over Colorado and raced out to a 21-0 lead in the quarter.
They will need a similar performance Saturday in Pasadena.
This game has all the makings of a classic ASU trap game--an inferior opponent on the road who can run the ball. UCLA, for all of their struggles and inconsistency this season, has the ability to control the tempo of the game and capitalize on any ASU mistakes.
The best way to prevent such a scenario is to jump out to an early lead, take the crowd out of the game and force UCLA out of their ground-based comfort zone and into Prince's turnover parade.
The Sun Devils showed they had a killer instinct last week and a repeat on Saturday would go a long way towards clinching the South.
4th - Continue Holding the Line
One of the biggest problem areas for the Sun Devils in 2011 has been the play of their offensive line.
Coming into the game against Colorado, the running game was averaging a woeful 3.8-yards per carry (bottoming out in a ridiculous 1.9 against Utah) and the pass protection was a major issue in both of the team's losses this season.
However, the line, rejuvenated off the bye week, manhandled the Buffalo defensive line. As a result, the team ran for 207 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and Brock Osweiler had plenty of protection in the passing game.
They should be able to carry over that momentum. The UCLA front seven has been poor against the run, allowing over 184 yards per game, and their pass rush has been horrendous, ranking 109th in the country. The Bruins have only tallied nine sacks through eight games, and their second leading sacker, defensive tackle Cassius Marsh, will miss the game due to suspension.
That should result in a big day for Brock Osweiler and the ASU receivers.
Goal - Don't Stop to Smell the Roses
Like the X-wing pilot making the trench run on the Death Star, ASU is "almost there". They are closing in on the South division title and the path is clear of any significant hurdles.
However, the Sun Devils have shown a tendency to play down to the level of competition at times, something they absolutely cannot afford this week.
The history and grandeur of the Rose Bowl, the intensity of this rivalry, the Sun Devils' national rankings--these things must all be forgotten as soon as the ball is kicked off. Arizona State is a better team than UCLA in almost every area. It's time to prove it.
Prediction: 34-17 ASU
The Arizona St. Sun Devils moved to 6-2 on the season and 4-1 in the Pac-12 after last weekend's 48-14 Homecoming victory over the Colorado Buffaloes. The win secured bowl eligibility for ASU this postseason, and ASU fans will look ahead to potential bowl match-ups as the season continues to progress. In his latest version of the 2011 college football bowl projections, SB Nation's very own Bill Connelly predicts that the Sun Devils will play Kansas State in the Valero Alamo Bowl after losing to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Connelly projects the Sun Devils to finish the season with an 8-4 record, with two wins and two losses coming in the team's final four games against UCLA, Washington State, Arizona and Cal. Connelly has the Sun Devils winning the Pac-12 South and losing to the Cardinal in the conference championship game. He gives Stanford a 74% chance of victory in that contest.
At 9-4 following the conference title game, Connelly places ASU into a match-up with the Kansas State Wildcats (projected to go 8-4 with three losses in their final four games) in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The Sun Devils could outperform these projections by closing out the season with anything better than a 2-2 record. The Sun Devils should be favored in each of their final four games this season, beginning with their game against the UCLA Bruins this weekend. In fact, ASU is currently an 8.5 to 9.5-point favorite against the Bruins, according to Odds Shark.
As favorites in each of their four remaining games, ASU should post better than a 2-2 record. The Sun Devils have played poorly on the road at times this season but should power through against UCLA and Washington State to achieve at least a 3-1 record.
If the Sun Devils can go 3-1 record or better down the stretch, the Sun Devils will end their season with a record of 9-3 or better. That mark should earn the Sun Devils a high bowl game and the opportunity to cap off a strong 2011 campaign with one more victory.
As bowl season approaches, check out the 2011 College Football Bowl Schedule.
While the UCLA Bruins sit multiple games behind the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 south, Arizona State has the chance to essentially clinch a division title on Saturday afternoon. A win this week would require an epic collapse the rest of the way for the Devils to miss out on the conference championship game.
Despite their national ranking, ASU has struggled on the road this season and has fallen behind early on multiple occasions. That has not scared off those in Las Vegas, though, and Bodog.com has the Sun Devils as 10-point favorites this week.
This should not come as much of a surprise to anyone. Arizona State is fresh off a romping of Colorado, and despite a win last weekend, UCLA has not had a very good season and was recently trounced by a mediocre Arizona Wildcats team.
Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel knows his job could be on the line should his team struggle down the stretch and a win would be huge for his program. Expect the Bruins to come out hungry for an upset victory when the game kicks off at 4:30 p.m.
It's back-home week for many ASU players, but a win against UCLA is the biggest priority in what has turned out to be a key divisional game.
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