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UCLA vs. Arizona State: Key storylines entering Bruins’ showdown with Sun Devils

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) celebrates with wide receiver Chase Cota (23) after scoring.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) celebrates with wide receiver Chase Cota (23) after scoring a touchdown against the Stanford during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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Put on the tea kettle. Chill the caffeinated drinks. Set the coffee pot timer. Television viewers might need some assistance to stay awake for the FS1 broadcast of No. 20 UCLA’s 7:30 p.m. showdown against Arizona State on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl. The only jolt the Bruins (3-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) and Sun Devils (3-1, 1-0) need is knowing sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South goes to the winner. UCLA is favored by three points as it seeks to start 2-0 in Pac-12 play for the first time since 2013.

Times staff writer Ben Bolch looks at the game’s matchups and story lines:

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You’re still here?

Chip Kelly and Herm Edwards sparked different reactions upon their hiring before the 2018 season.

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UCLA and Arizona State could provide an offensive showcase that might make for another exciting late-night Pac-12 matchup.

Kelly was the hot name, the offensive savant who went 46-7 at Oregon. UCLA fans were thrilled that a school known for hiring former Bruins and coaching retreads on the cheap had splurged for a savior.

Edwards was far less enthusiastically embraced, having no pedigree as a college head coach and saying he would run his team like an NFL outfit. He also didn’t appear to know Arizona State’s mascot at his introductory news conference, telling a reporter from Devils Digest, “I’m Catholic now, I’m a Christian, watch out [for] them Devils.”

Both coaches entered the season feeling considerable heat — Kelly for a losing record, Edwards for alleged recruiting violations — meaning they need to generate as much goodwill as possible. Kelly has gone 2-1 in the head-to-head battle with Edwards and could help secure his standing with another win.

Kelly trails in the bowl ledger, with Edwards having taken the Sun Devils to the Las Vegas and Sun bowls. Kelly is seeking his first bowl appearance as the Bruins’ coach.

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A perfect running mate

What do you do when you have two top-notch running backs? Start them both.

UCLA lineman Jon Gaines II and his teammate hope their success helps his father secure a hard-to-find kidney donor that would massively improve his life.

That was Kelly’s solution to the playing time conundrum involving Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet. Both were in the backfield to start the Bruins’ game against Stanford last weekend and both contributed heavily to a 35-24 victory.

Charbonnet eclipsed Brown in the number of carries for the first time this season, piling up 118 yards and a touchdown in 23 carries. Brown finished with eight carries for 66 yards to go with two catches for four yards.

Charbonnet caught five passes for 57 yards, including one span late in the second quarter in which he snagged three consecutive passes out of the backfield for first downs.

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“When something works, we’re not going to shy away from it,” UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said, “so I think that’s what you saw on Saturday, they were leaving the flats wide open.”

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Here’s to you, Mr. Thompson-Robinson

There was some disbelief on message boards when Thompson-Robinson told reporters he had hurt his non-throwing arm after everyone at Stanford Stadium and watching on TV had seen him clutching his throwing arm in anguish.

Regardless of whether it was gamesmanship, having fun in the moment or failing to remember which arm was which, Thompson-Robinson appeared fine in practice this week and should be ready to start the game.

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Turnover troubles?

Arizona State is not a team against which you want to be in a giving mood.

The Sun Devils have forced 40 turnovers in their last 15 games dating to 2019, five more than any other team in the country over the same span.

This will be a statistic that could prove pivotal given that UCLA is minus-26 in turnovers during its losses under Kelly and plus-17 in turnovers during its wins. The Bruins are plus-three overall in turnovers this season, a big part of their best start since they won their first four games in 2015.

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