coleryan Posts:14553 Followers:21
On 11/18/2013 04:28 PM in NCAA Football

Arizona State Sun Devils at UCLA Bruins: Preview and Pick

Arizona State Sun Devils at UCLA Bruins: Preview and Pick

The Pac-12 has been wide open all season. While many believed that the Sanford Cardinal and the Oregon Ducks were the class of the conference, other teams are also playing great football. Two of those teams will meet on the field this weekend when the Arizona State Sun Devils travel to take on the UCLA Bruins. In the past this game has been all about bragging rights, but this year there is more on the line.

Arizona State Sun Devils at UCLA Bruins Odds

The college football odds for this game opened up with the Sun Devils listed as (-2) point favorites. Although the Sun Devils are a very good team, the betting public is backing the home team in this game as over 70 percent of the wagers are on the UCLA Bruins. Despite this betting trend, the line has shifted and can now be found at (-2.5) at several of the top rated online sportsbooks.
The positive change to the UCLA football program can be attributed to Jim Mora. Mora has completely changed the culture around UCLA. Players are being held accountable. Players said that the first day he met with the team, it was clear he was in charge. The “over the wall” days, where players ditched a practice, ended was a result. But that doesn’t just mean he rides rough-shod over them. He has been as much a guidance counselor. He moved practices to 7 a.m., which gets players to bed earlier and gets them out of bed so they get to class. He cares about this team and it shows.
Arizona State Sun Devils at UCLA Bruins Trends

The latest college football betting trends reveal that the Bruins have some favorable wagering angles heading into this game. The Bruins are 5-0 against the spread (ATS) in their last 5 games after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game, 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games after allowing more than 280 yards passing in their previous game and 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game. The Sun Devils are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games following a win, 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games after allowing more than 280 yards passing in their previous game and 2-5 ATS in their last 7 road games.

Arizona State Sun Devils at UCLA Bruins Pick

With plenty of time before kickoff we will wait for more information to come in before we select a side on this contest. Make sure to check back on the day of the game to see who we select as our winner for this big game.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 6-4-0
coleryan Posts:14553 Followers:21
11/19/2013 01:33 PM

The most encouraging sign for Arizona State entering Saturday’s showdown at UCLA: the Sun Devils’ recent defensive performance.

“I think we’re playing the best that we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said coach Todd Graham, in his second season in Tempe. “We’re still a long way from where we can be, but we’re playing at a high level. We’ve been pretty dominant the last three or four weeks.”

ASU — up to No. 17 in the BCS standings — have won five in a row, including Saturday’s 30-17 win over Oregon State at Sun Devil Stadium. A win Saturday over No. 14 UCLA would clinch the division, sending the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Even if they lose, they’re still not dead. ASU simply would need to defeat rival Arizona on Nov. 30 and hope USC knocks off UCLA the same day.

“This is why you come to work every day,” Graham said. “This is why you want to play in a conference like this, to have this kind of opportunity.”

Over its win streak, ASU (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) has limited opponents to 282.8 yards per game, which would rank sixth nationally if stretched out over the entire season. In addition, the Sun Devils have forced 15 turnovers, including 11 interceptions.

But perhaps their biggest improvement has come on big plays. Over ASU’s first five games — a stretch that included contests against Wisconsin, Stanford and Notre Dame — the Sun Devils gave up seven scoring plays of 20-plus yards, four coming on rushes. In their past five, they have allowed only four, all coming through the air.

“I always thought all year long we had tremendous potential, we just had a mental error here and there, a critical error here and there,” Graham said. “We’ve eliminated almost all of the critical errors, the ones that result in one-play touchdowns. We still have a ways to go to get over the mental-errors part, but our system is very complex. It’s pretty hard to make it through a game when you don’t have (some kind of mistake), but I think we’re playing at a high level.”

UCLA (8-2, 5-2) has won three in a row since losing back-to-back to North powers Stanford and Oregon. Sophomore Brett Hundley of Chandler is one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks at extending plays, and freshman linebacker Myles Jack has boosted a banged-up backfield, scoring five touchdowns in two games.

Is ASU ready to take the next step?

“We’ll find out,” Graham said. “We haven’t done anything yet. Our goal has always been to win the Pac-12 South, the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl. We’ll see how we respond, but I have great belief in these guys. … We’re real close. You can tell how they’ve played that we’ve got a heck of a football team, but at this level, the margin for error is very small.”

  • Last 7 Days Record: 6-4-0
coleryan Posts:14553 Followers:21
11/20/2013 07:49 PM

Arizona State returned to the practice field on Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's matchup with UCLA, but the Sun Devils did things a little differently in hopes of gaining an edge over the reigning Pac-12 South champions.

For the first time this season, the Sun Devils went without pads for a Wednesday practice which is typically one of the most rigorous days of the week for Arizona State. Todd Graham said this isn't the first time he's made this decision at Arizona State as he implemented a similar policy late in the season last year

"The last two weeks of the season I did the same thing last year," Graham said. "I just want them (the players) to be really fresh and you can tell they kind of liked that today."

Graham consulted with strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold before he made the call and he frequently mentions the faith he has in Griswold's feel for the player's health. Graham said he didn't notice a drop off in the energy level from the Sun Devils at practice today although he did indicate it's easier to tell when he has a chance to reflect in the film room.

"I'm hoping they were mature enough to handle that and I think they were and I'll know when I watch the film," Graham said.

This isn't the first time Graham has changed up the practice regimen for the Sun Devils this season. During the bye week prior to the Washington State game, the Sun Devils went without pads for three consecutive practices and they looked sharp in a 55-21 victory over the Cougars.

Graham also said that this year's practices have looked a little different because he's had players wearing pads three days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) as opposed to just two days a week last season.

"Last year, every Thursday we didn't wear pads," Graham said. "This year every Thursday we have (worn pads) so it's kind of a little different."

The Sun Devils have played a grueling schedule this season and Graham ultimately believes that practicing without pads will help players stay healthy while also keeping them focused.

With the Pac-12 South title on the line, the Sun Devils have readied their bodies for action and they're ready to pry the division crown away from the Bruins.

"You need to remain humble and you have to work and prepare and go and take it," Graham said. "It's not going to be something they're going to offer up very easily."

  • Last 7 Days Record: 6-4-0
coleryan Posts:14553 Followers:21
11/20/2013 07:50 PM

With the Pac-12 South Division title hanging in the balance the 19th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils and the 14th-ranked UCLA Bruins will square off in a critical league battle at the Rose Bowl.

The Sun Devils have quietly risen to the top of the Pac-12 South Division. Arizona State has won five straight games after a 30-17 triumph over Oregon State last weekend. The win pushed the Sun Devils to 6-1 in league action, which has them ahead of both UCLA and USC by a game in the standings. Arizona State also moved up to No. 19 in the national rankings this weekend with its overall record improving to 8-2.

"We have worked a really long time, some of these guys five years, for the opportunity to go to UCLA and compete for the Pac-12 South Championship," Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said. "We are 60 minutes away, one win away, from clinching the south. That is a big, big deal."

This is the first part of a brutal two-game stretch to end the year for UCLA, which must deal with cross-town rival USC next weekend. The Bruins have set themselves up nicely to get a shot at their third straight Pac-12 Championship appearance with wins in three straight contests. The most recent was a 41-31 victory over Washington. The Bruins now sit at 8-2 overall and with a win this week and against the Trojans, will earn the South Division title.

"We are still in the hunt with another week to play. We call it our championship drive here. Arizona State is coming in here, and they are an excellent football team," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said. "But the most important thing is winning, and our offense has embraced it. It's an indication of the character of our players. I'm excited. I'm fired up. We are still in it. We have to keep going. We have to keep winning."

If last year's matchup is any indication this should be a barn burner. Ka'i Fairbairn booted a 33-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Bruins to a thrilling 45-43 victory over the Sun Devils in Tempe. The Bruins lead that series by a count of 18-10-1.

Other than Oregon and Washington, no team in the Pac-12 is picking up more yards (475.3 ypg) than the Sun Devils. Arizona State also boasts of the second best scoring average (42.3 ypg) in the league.

A look at the short list of Heisman candidates probably wouldn't include Marion Grice, but it certainly should. The Sun Devils' lead running back has been unstoppable both on the ground and through the air this season. Grice has amassed 901 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing and has added 43 receptions for 366 yards and six more scores as a receiver. Grice has scored more touchdowns than any player in the Pac-12 and is second in the country in the category.

Grice isn't the only player that has been versatile. Taylor Kelly lines up under center and has been impressive both with his arm and his legs. Kelly has completed 62.4 percent of his pass attempts for 2,838 yards and 24 touchdowns, though he has been picked off 10 times. Kelly has had some issues of late as he has failed to get over 200 yards passing in the last two games. Kelly has also rushed for 312 yards and seven scores this year.

Although Kelly didn't excel through the air against the Beavers, Jaelen Strong was able to produce his best game in awhile as he had 106 yards on seven receptions. Strong (59 receptions, 834 yards, five TDs) had five straight games of 100 or more yards at one point this season but before last Saturday had been held to 35 or less in three straight. D.J. Foster (50 receptions, 523 yards, three TDs) and tight end Chris Coyle (24 receptions, 370 yards, four TDs) should not be overlooked either.

The Sun Devils' defensive efforts have earned them the top spot in the Pac-12 in total yards (338.4 ypg) just as quietly as they have risen to the lead in the South Division. Carl Bradford (11.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks) and Davon Coleman (10.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks) lead the pass rush, while Robert Nelson (39 tackles, six INTs) has been shutting down receivers and capitalizing on mistakes.

UCLA isn't far off the offensive pace. The Bruins are picking up 457.8 yards per game, with one of the more balanced attacks in the league. UCLA is also averaging more yards per play (6.1) than the Sun Devils (5.9).

The offensive breakthrough of the weekend, and probably the year, occurred in Los Angeles last weekend when converted freshman linebacker Myles Jack rushed for 59 yards and four touchdowns for the Bruins. It is the most for a Bruin in a game since 2005, when Maurice Jones-Drew accomplished the feat. Jack's efforts help out a backfield that has Paul Perkins (476 yards, three TDs), but has been without Jordon James (471 yards, five TDs), who has missed five of the last six games.

None of those three rushers is leading the team in rushing. That honor goes to quarterback Brett Hundley (502 yards, seven TDs), who like Kelly, is a threat both through the air and on the ground. Hundley is more comfortable as a passer though, having amassed 2,384 yards and 20 scores to just eight interceptions, completing 67.8 percent of his passes.

Hundley looks downfield for Shaquelle Evans (36 receptions, 524 yards, seven TDs), Devin Fuller (40 receptions, 453 yards, four TDs) and Jordan Payton (27 receptions, 336 yards, TD).

UCLA has not had the same type of defensive success as the Sun Devils this season, ranking ninth in the Pac-12 in total yards allowed (393.6 ypg). The Bruins have forced 21 takeaways and are tied for third in the league in turnover margin (+7). All-American Anthony Barr (14.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks) is a beast in the front seven. Keenan Graham (5.0 sacks) and Ishmael Adams (49 tackles, four INTs) have also made plenty of plays on the ball.

There is no understating how important this game is. Both teams are hungry to grab a division crown and put themselves in position for a berth in the Pac-12 title game. Arizona State has not traveled well this year with a 2-2 record, but with Grice and the stout defense they have, the Sun Devils will find a way to win.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 6-4-0
coleryan Posts:14553 Followers:21
11/21/2013 10:23 AM

If Arizona State is to have any chance at playing in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, it will likely need to win in Pasadena this weekend.

The 19th-ranked Sun Devils can clinch the Pac-12 South Division with a victory over No. 14 UCLA on Saturday.

Arizona State (8-2, 6-1) has a one-game lead over UCLA and USC, and having already defeated the Trojans, the only thing standing in the Sun Devils' way from earning a spot in the conference title game on Dec. 7 is a victory over the Bruins (8-2, 5-2).

"We've been talking about winning a championship here for two years," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "I know our guys are focused. It's a body of work at this point, there's not a lot of surprises between one team and another team.

"This is a big game, I can't say that it's not a big game. It's one we've been pointing to all year long."

A loss would mean Arizona State would need to beat Arizona in its regular-season finale and have USC defeat UCLA next week to earn the South crown.

The Sun Devils have won six straight conference games, with five consecutive victories overall - the program's longest win streak since 2007. Since losing to Notre Dame on Oct. 5, Arizona State's defense has really locked down. Opponents are averaging 18.8 points in the past five games, while the Sun Devils have recorded 18 sacks and picked off 10 passes.

Cornerback Robert Nelson has been the leader of the defense all year, and has five interceptions during the winning streak. In last Saturday's 30-17 victory over Oregon State, Nelson had five tackles, two picks and a fumble recovery. His second interception was returned 23 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, essentially icing the game for the Sun Devils.

For his performance, Nelson was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week.

"All the credit goes to the defense," Nelson said. "I just read the quarterback and made a break on the ball. We were just doing what coach told us to do all week. We stayed disciplined and stayed in our assignments."

While the defense has been great, Arizona State will need a better performance from its offense if it is to knock off the Bruins. Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 183 yards against Oregon State, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Kelly has also been sacked eight times in the past two games, a concern versus a Bruins defense led by pass-rush specialist Anthony Barr, who has seven sacks this season.

The Sun Devils' run game has been a bit more efficient, thanks in large part to running back Marion Grice. A dynamic runner, as well as being a good receiver out of the backfield, Grice has 20 total touchdowns to rank second in the FBS.

"(Arizona State) is a heck of a football team," Bruins coach Jim Mora said. "They play hard, and they play fast, and they play physical. They've got a lot of confidence right now."

UCLA has won three in a row since dropping back-to-back games to Stanford and Oregon. The Bruins, who have scored 30 or more points in each of their last three, defeated Washington 41-31 last Friday.

Quarterback Brett Hundley didn't have his greatest game, throwing for 159 yards and two TDs, but linebacker Myles Jack picked up the slack, rushing for four touchdowns. Jack followed up his 120-yard debut at running back against Arizona in the previous week by becoming the 13th player in UCLA history to score four touchdowns in a game.

"Myles is a weapon," Mora said. "Like I said last week, you just can't go crazy with it. This guy is an outstanding linebacker, and he's as good as you'll find in America, especially for a freshman. That's where he loves to play and that's where we want to play him. But we are going to continue to use him (at running back).

Mora did imply the team may add some wrinkles to the playbook with their two-way weapon, saying, "If (Jack) is just out there every time we hand him the ball, Arizona State is going to be zeroed in on him. We will keep using him over there."

The Bruins have won three of the past four meetings with the Sun Devils, including the past two. UCLA won 45-43 at Arizona State last season on a 33-yard field goal from kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn as time expired.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 6-4-0
coleryan Posts:14553 Followers:21
11/22/2013 10:08 AM

The move was inspired less by genius and more by necessity. UCLA coaches didn't set out to turn Myles Jack into the most exciting two-way player in years. They only wanted to gain a few more yards on the ground.

Forget Charles Woodson, the Michigan cornerback who caught 11 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown as a receiver during his 1997 Heisman Trophy season. Jack -- who has rushed for five touchdowns in two weeks as a tailback, and has been one of the nation's best freshman linebackers the entire season -- seems shot straight out of the 1930s, an ironman who can dominate on both sides of the ball. He'll likely play a role in the Bruins' offense again on Saturday, when they face Arizona State in the Rose Bowl in a game that could determine the winner of the Pac-12 South. But making Jack a regular feature of the offense wasn't necessarily the intent of UCLA coaches when they decided to hand him the ball. With three backs nursing injuries heading into the Bruins' game at Arizona on Nov. 9, the coaches needed a creative solution to keep their running game alive.

Enter offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, known affectionately to some of his players as Heisenberg. The Bruins aren't well versed in quantum mechanics, nor are they offering a commentary on the unpredictability of Mazzone's schemes. Mazzone, with his shiny dome, glasses and goatee, simply bears a striking resemblance to Walter White, perhaps the most beloved antihero in television history. In Breaking Bad, White begins as a high school chemistry teacher and ends up as a drug lord. His nom de meth? Heisenberg, in honor of the physicist best known for the uncertainty principle.

With backs Jordon James, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen all hobbled by ankle injuries, Mazzone had to go into the lab and create some way to move the ball on the ground. His playbook included an inverted wishbone formation, which featured a ballcarrier running behind two fullbacks, and a heavy line with two tight ends. Such a formation would allow a player unfamiliar with carrying the ball at the college level to run behind a protective wall of beef. If that player was explosive and instinctive enough, he just might gain a few yards.

From what he had seen across the practice field all season, Mazzone admired Jack's explosiveness and instincts. When Jack arrived on campus from Bellevue, Wash., over the summer, defensive coordinator Lou Spanos knew he had to get the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder on the field. By the time the Arizona game rolled around, Jack was playing two defensive positions. On normal downs, he played outside linebacker. On obvious passing downs, he shifted to middle linebacker. Though Jack already had a lot on his plate, Mazzone asked Spanos if he might be able to borrow the freshman for a few minutes at practice. He had an idea, and he thought Jack might like it.

Mazzone also requested another favor of Spanos. He needed some extra heft. So Mazzone borrowed defensive linemen Eddie Vanderdoes, Cassius Marsh, Kenny Clark and Keenan Graham, as well as linebacker Jordan Zumwalt to help block for Jack. "Personnel-wise, offensively, we're kind of a small, quick group," Mazzone said. "We don't have a lot of the big, physical guys that can play on the edge. [The defense has] those guys."

Jack still didn't quite believe that his coaches were going to hand him the ball in a full stadium. "I thought they were playing," Jack said. "They had been hinting at it since summer. They finally called it in a game. I didn't think we were actually going to run it. I thought we were going to hard-count them and call timeout." Against the Wildcats, Jack carried six times for 120 yards. Early in the fourth quarter, he broke free down the right sideline and raced for a 66-yard touchdown. On defense, he made eight tackles and recovered a fumble.

Last week against Washington, UCLA used the package again. Jack carried 13 times for 60 yards and four touchdowns. Mazzone also added another wrinkle. He had quarterback Brett Hundley fake to Jack and throw a touchdown pass to Marsh who's a defensive end. Meanwhile, Jack made five tackles and broke up a pass on defense.

On Tuesday, camera crews from ESPN and Fox descended on the Bruins' practice field to examine the curiosity of a true throwback player in this era of specialization. For his part, Jack still considers himself a moonlighting defender. Asked to choose between the two positions, he'd choose linebacker. In fact, he made that exact choice when he was being recruited, receiving offers from around the Pac-12 as well as interest from Florida State and Georgia. Jack had starred as both a running back and a linebacker at Bellevue High, but he always preferred defense. "It was mostly linebacker," Jack said. "A couple schools here and there were running back. Some let me choose what I wanted to be, and I made it clear that I wanted to play linebacker."

Jack still wants to play linebacker. He prefers tackling to being tackled, and he considers his interception to seal a 34-27 victory at Utah on Oct. 3 more satisfying than any touchdown. It's unlikely that UCLA will expand Jack's role in the offense beyond the current package, because that would require Jack to learn all the blocking assignments and pass protection rules. During game weeks, defensive coaches must prepare Jack the linebacker to face the opposing offense. That leaves the offensive coaches no time to teach Jack the finer points of blocking. "We can't," Bruins coach Jim Mora said. "So we don't even try."

In the offseason, coaches will have to decide how to best use Jack going forward. Jack has made his preference known, but he'll do whatever he is asked. "Whatever the team needs," he said. "It's not my choice. It's what my coaches say." For now, Jack will also do whatever his team requires. If that means making tackles and then turning around and carrying the ball, so be it. He is only 18, so his body can recover more quickly than most. Plus, now he has some empathy for the offensive players. Two games of playing tailback at the college level have taught Jack what his opponents feel when he tackles them.

"It's definitely harder than it looks," said the guy who makes it look so easy.

  • Last 7 Days Record: 6-4-0