New Arizona school, new game plan.
After dispatching Arizona, the worst rushing defense in the conference, UCLA (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) will face the other desert school this weekend with a new weakness to exploit.
Arizona State (4-1, 0-1 Pac-12) has the worst passing defense in the country, giving up almost 400 yards a game in the air.
But the Sun Devils are still one of the most physical teams in the conference – something they took advantage of in last year’s 38-23 win against the Bruins.
“They’re an experienced physical group. They want to get after the quarterback. They’ll be a good challenge for us,” said redshirt junior center Scott Quessenberry. “There is a lot of tenacity to that group. They bring a lot of stunts. They do a good job using their hands, a very polished group, very experienced. A lot comes from experience. They always have a good scheme and always come ready to play.”
UCLA offensive lineman Kolton Miller will likely be sidelined for the game after being seen walking around campus with a cast this week. Stepping up for the redshirt sophomore will be redshirt freshman Andre James.
Against the Wildcats, James stepped up to help stop the defensive front seven and protect sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen.
“You have to believe and trust yourself,” Rosen said of James’ play. “The guys across are really big too, so you have to trust your technique and believe in yourself.”
James got some snaps earlier in the season, but with Miller out, coach Jim Mora will likely call on the younger offensive lineman to start against the Sun Devil defense.
Mora believes James – with some game experience under his belt – will be ready for another close game.
“I thought he did a nice job and what helped him is we had been using him in our big package, as a tight end, so he’s gotten some snaps,” Mora said. “So to go out on Saturday, in a competitive game, it was tight when he got in there and played 33 snaps. He’s physical and he lacks a little experience, but he got those plays and plays earlier in the season. It’s really benefited him.”
Besides how the defense will contain Rosen, the other big question for ASU will be at the quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Manny WIlkins went down with a leg injury last weekend against USC. With Wilkins’ injury, redshirt freshman Brady White will likely start for the Sun Devils. The inexperienced quarterback got a few snaps in against the Trojans but has yet to play meaningful minutes in a tight game situation.
White will rely heavily on the run game and his running backs, including junior Kalen Ballage, to outpace the UCLA offense.
Ballage punctuated the ASU victory last year by getting a final push from his offensive line into the end zone. But with UCLA’s improvement on the defensive side of the ball this year, the Bruins have a chance to stifle the Sun Devil ground game and ride Rosen’s arm to a win.