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UCLA-Arizona State football game could have crucial ramifications

If UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley plays against Arizona State there is no doubt he can stiff-arm an opponent right his throwing arm, the question will be how his injured left arm holds up to the rigors of a game.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The UCLA and Arizona State game has decided the Pac-12 Conference South title the last two seasons. It’s early, so the loser Saturday could still advance to the conference championship game. But the winner has a leg up. Staff writer Chris Foster examines story lines and matchups for the game:

Fret about Brett

With quarterback Brett Hundley on the sideline with his left elbow wrapped, UCLA rallied to defeat Texas on the gumption of back-up Jerry Neuheisel. But moving forward, through rocky Pac-12 terrain, would seem to require Hundley.

It was announced Tuesday that Hundley would start this game, but the source of the information was Arizona State Coach Todd Graham, who said, “There is no doubt in my mind that he’s going to play.”

UCLA Coach Jim Mora remained coy, though he claimed he was not doing the injured-quarterback shuffle in an effort to keep Graham guessing.

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But if that was true, then why did Hundley sneak out a side gate after practice?

Odds are, Hundley plays.

If he doesn’t, the Bruins will need a little more from their defense and running game. They got that against Texas.

Remember me?

Arizona State’s quarterback issue is more clear. Taylor Kelly, who carved up the Bruins for 540 yards passing and 154 yards rushing in two games, is out because of a foot injury.

In steps Mike Bercovici, who has thrown 24 passes in two-plus seasons. The Woodland Hills Taft High graduate was recruited to Arizona State by Noel Mazzone, now UCLA’s offensive coordinator.

“The kid gets rid of the ball quickly and he has a strong arm,” Mazzone said.

Still, like the Bruins without Hundley, Arizona State will need a little extra from its defense and running game with Taylor sidelined.

Foster care

With Kelly out, D.J. Foster becomes the man most likely to ruin the Bruins’ night. He is eighth nationally with 510 yards rushing. He is also second on the team with 11 receptions for 139 yards.

“He’s the best football player I have ever coached, and that’s saying something,” Graham said. “I have never coached a guy who can be so explosive as a receiver and equally explosive of a running back.”

You don’t have to convince Mora, who called Foster “dynamic.”

Watch for Foster and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack crossing paths.

Sack time?

So far, Arizona State has lacked the dominant defense it had a year ago. But UCLA has not provided a protective bubble for its quarterbacks.

The Bruins are giving up four sacks per game. Only four teams in the Football Bowl Division are allowing more.

The cost has been more than a loss of yardage. Hundley was scrambling against Texas when he was injured.

Mora said the sacks have been a team effort.

“Sometimes it’s the quarterback not getting rid of the ball, sometimes it’s the receiver’s route and sometimes it is the offensive line,” he said.

The Bruins have to protect Hundley. And, if the quarterback is Neuheisel, they need to protect him even more. Neuheisel is not as gifted at scrambling as Hundley.

UCLA had 217 yards rushing against Texas, 126 by Paul Perkins. A repeat performance would help whoever is at quarterback.

More triage

Kelly and Hundley are the marquee training room names, but there are other health issues for both teams.

The availability of Arizona State linebacker Laiu Moeakiola (shoulder) and receiver Tyler Whiley (undisclosed injury) is unknown. UCLA is without safety Randall Goforth (shoulder surgery). The status of offensive lineman Malcolm Bunche (leg), safety Anthony Jefferson (ankle, knee) and cornerback Fabian Moreau (elbow) is unknown.


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