UCLA must beware looking past revitalized Arizona State: Five things to watch Saturday
It’s a trap! It’s a trap!
No. 10 UCLA has two games seemingly as innocuous as a walk around the block before that highly anticipated showdown against No. 9 USC later this month.
One might come with chunks of broken sidewalk and a rabid dog in hot pursuit. It arrives Saturday night in the Arizona desert with plenty of “Pac-12 After Dark” intrigue.
Arizona State isn’t good by any standard measure, but the Sun Devils will be at home. They’ve finally identified the correct quarterback in former walk-on Trenton Bourguet. And there’s that whole anything-can-happen — and often does — factor when these teams face each other.
In each of the last three meetings when one team was ranked, the other has prevailed.
Arizona State knocked No. 20 UCLA from the national rankings for good last season by outscoring the Bruins 18-0 in the second half.
USC and UCLA made their debuts at No. 9 and 12 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2022 college football season Tuesday.
The Bruins toppled the No. 24 Sun Devils in 2019 thanks to Joshua Kelley’s four touchdown runs.
It was Arizona State doing the spoiling in 2015, ending No. 7 UCLA’s College Football Playoff hopes with a victory at the Rose Bowl.
Here are five things to watch when the Bruins (7-1 overall, 4-1 Pac-12) face the Sun Devils (3-5, 2-3) at 7:30 p.m. PST at Sun Devil Stadium in a game broadcast by FS1:
Ready to rise?
UCLA was No. 12 in the first CFP rankings released this week, meaning the Bruins cannot withstand another loss if they hope to make college football’s final four.
For those already ruling UCLA out of the running for the CFP, history says you might be a touch premature. Two teams ranked lower than the Bruins in the first CFP rankings in previous seasons — No. 14 Ohio State in 2014 and No. 15 Oklahoma in 2015 — qualified for the playoff.
This will be the Bruins’ first time playing as a top-10 team in the Associated Press rankings since November 2014, when they rose as high as No. 8 before falling to unranked Stanford.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly lamented late Pac-12 kickoff times drastically limit how many people watch stars Zach Charbonnet and Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
At the very least, a victory over Arizona State would give UCLA coach Chip Kelly something worthwhile — a .500 overall record for the first time with the Bruins. He is 25-26 in five seasons, including 15-5 since the start of 2021.
The running men
Anyone who likes rushing attacks could be in for a treat.
The top two rushers in the Pac-12 will be on the field in UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet (137.7 yards per game) and Arizona State’s Xazavian Valladay (95).
Valladay ran for a career-best three touchdowns last weekend during the Sun Devils’ 42-34 victory over Colorado, but he has a lot of ground to cover to catch his Bruins counterpart in terms of productivity.
Charbonnet has run for at least 100 yards in five consecutive games, including more than 150 yards in the last three in a row. His 198 yards last weekend against Stanford tied a career high and helped UCLA roll up a season-high 324 yards on the ground.
UCLA used a balanced effort to shut down Stanford and bounce back from the Bruins’ recent loss to Oregon, keeping their Pac-12 title hopes alive.
He’s the guy
In his first career start, Bourquet showed he was capable of elevating Arizona State’s offense.
The redshirt junior completed 32 of 43 passes for 435 yards and three touchdowns with one interception against Colorado, setting a record for most passing yards by a Sun Devils quarterback in his first start. Interim coach Shaun Aguano said this week that Bourguet would remain the starter after Emory Jones, a transfer from Florida, had started seven consecutive games before last weekend.
Kelly called Bourguet as good a decision-maker as the Bruins would face this season based on his ability to deliver quick, accurate throws.
“You try to blitz him,” Kelly said, “and the ball’s out before you can get to him.”
UCLA defensive coordinator Bill McGovern is expected back after an illness kept him home last Saturday.
His replacements called a good game, the Bruins holding Stanford to 13 points and 270 yards of offense, but Arizona State presents a far greater challenge.
UCLA freshman Amari Bailey is already making an impression on coach Mick Cronin and teammates. Bailey says he’s trying to make most of his time as a Bruin.
The Sun Devils are coming off a game in which they rolled up 557 yards of offense — their most since September 2018. When Arizona State’s offense is clicking, it has been practically unstoppable, averaging 42.3 points in its three victories.
The flip side is that the Sun Devils have averaged just 18 points in their five losses.
Going for it
Kelly has never been shy about taking a chance on fourth down, but he found some rare efficiency in those situations last weekend.
UCLA converted all five of its fourth-down attempts against Stanford, making it the first time on record dating to at least 1996 in which the Bruins have been perfect on fourth downs when attempting at least five chances.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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