GAME NOTES: Pac-10 Conference foes wake up from Thanksgiving festivities on Friday to hit the gridiron in Tempe, as the Arizona State Sun Devils entertain the UCLA Bruins.
Two teams fighting for their postseason lives, both squads have a record of just 4-6 on the season with this and one more game to play. Also identical are the team's conference marks which show that they each have just two wins in seven tries.
Part of the problem with the Bruins this year has been inconsistency at the quarterback position, whether its due to poor play or injury. Over the last five games, UCLA has just a single win, a 17-14 victory over Oregon State at home on November 6th. Last Thursday, the team lost for the fourth time in five tries on the road with a 24-7 setback versus Washington.
As for the Sun Devils, they haven't won back-to-back games since topping Portland State and Northern Arizona in the first two outings of the season. Since crushing Washington State at home on October 30th by a score of 42-0, ASU has fallen in two straight, including a disappointing 17-13 final versus nationally-ranked Stanford on November 13 at home.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, UCLA owns a 16-9-1 advantage over the Sun Devils, with the teams splitting the last four encounters. The Bruins posted a 23-13 win at home in the Rose Bowl last year and the last matchup in Tempe favored the hosts, 34-9, in 2008.
Last week, Johnathan Franklin hit the end zone on a 31-yard run in the first quarter to give the Bruins an early 7-0 lead as he capped a 13-play, 92-yard drive that ate up almost seven minutes on the clock. That promising drive was followed by virtually no production by UCLA the rest of the way. Franklin finished with 53 rushing yards in total on 18 attempts, while Richard Brehaut converted just 5-of-14 passes for 42 yards before being pulled. Head coach Rick Neuheisel gave both Clayton Tunney and Darius Bell some time under center, but they combined to hit just 1-of-11 for 13 yards and each was picked off once. Forget the fact that Kevin Prince went out with an injury after five starts because even with him in there the passing game for the Bruins was still awful. Put everyone together who has tried to throw a pass for UCLA this year and you come up with the worst passing attack in all of college football, earning an efficiency rating of just 86.96. The running attack is average at best with 185.8 ypg, but put it altogether and this offense is still 104th in the country in scoring (19.4 ppg).
Even though the Bruins lost by 24 points the last time out, it was actually one of the better defensive performances by the squad. UCLA limited the home team to just 1-of-12 on third down plays and 68 yards through the air overall, which is quite significant seeing as how Washington quarterback Jake Locker was expected to contend for the Heisman Trophy this year and could have been a high selection in last year's NFL draft. The area in which UCLA faltered was on the ground where it permitted 253 yards and an average of more than six yards per attempt to the Huskies. At this stage the run defense for the Bruins ranks eighth in the conference and 101st in the nation with almost 200 ypg allowed. The pass defense has been more sensible with 198.8 ypg permitted, but that might just be a product of opponents knowing that they can run on UCLA whenever and however they want. Another area of concern for the Bruins is in the turnover department where they are minus-1.0 per game, but that has more to do with the number of interceptions thrown by a multitude of QBs than anything else really.
Steven Threet ran for a touchdown and threw for another against Stanford, but even that effort was not enough to take down the Cardinal at home. Threet finished the meeting 16-of-26 for 158 yards, was sacked once and threw an interception. His four rushing attempts resulted in just five net yards, but he did manage to get into the end zone, which is more than could be said for anyone else on the field. Cameron Marshall posted a team-best 92 yards rushing, quite nearly the same amount he had in the last two games combined. Marshall does have a total of seven rushing TDs to his credit so far this season, but with three of those coming against Portland State in the opener and another the next week versus Northern Arizona, he's been of little consequence for opposing defenses for the most part this year. Heading into the Stanford meeting Threet had thrown three TDs in back-to-back games, yet even now he has almost as many INTs (16) as he does TDs (18) on the season overall.
Against the Cardinal a couple weeks back, Arizona State had perhaps its best defensive effort of the entire season, holding the nationally-ranked squad to just two touchdowns and 17 points overall. Against Andrew Luck, one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this year and already a finalist for numerous other awards, the ASU pass defense allowed him to complete 33-of-41 passes for 292 yards, but not a single completion ended up in the end zone which is certainly a positive sign for the Sun Devils no matter what the final score was. When it comes to yardage allowed, the secondary for Arizona State has been stung for 235.6 ypg, which makes the group eight in the conference and 91st in the nation entering this week. However, the guys up front are making some positive moves by posting 7.6 tackles for loss per game which not only has them first in the conference, but also sixth in the nation.
With the quarterback spot such an enigma for the Bruins this entire season, expect to see the ASU defense pin their ears back and go after whomever might be handling the ball back there on Friday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 27, UCLA 17