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Scouting report: UCLA football vs. Arizona State

By Sam Settleman

Nov. 3, 2022 11:27 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 3 at 11:54 p.m. 

No. 12 UCLA football (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) will head to Tempe for a matchup with Arizona State (3-5, 2-3) on Saturday. The Bruins will look to avoid faltering in a potential trap game against a Sun Devils squad that has looked competitive as of late. Here is this week’s scouting report from Sports editor Sam Settleman – who is pleasantly surprised by the weather forecast in Tempe this weekend.

Arizona State’s offense
Offensive scheme: Spread
Run-pass percentage: 48.4% pass, 51.6% run
Strength: Skill players
Weakness: Quarterback experience
X-factor: WR Elijhah Badger

The talk of the town in Tempe has been about quarterback Trenton Bourguet.

The former walk-on took over quarterback Emory Jones’ spot as QB1 in Arizona State’s most recent bout with Colorado. In his first-ever start, Bourguet delivered 435 passing yards and three touchdowns, nearly doubling Jones’ best passing output of the season.

But while Bourguet has ignited what looked like a new offense against the Buffaloes, it’s really two other offensive players who should be on the Bruins’ radar.

When the Sun Devils were struggling to move the chains through the air with Jones at quarterback, it was largely running back Xazavian Valladay who shouldered the load. The graduate transfer from Wyoming eclipsed the 4,000-rushing-yard mark last week and currently stands as the leading rusher among active FBS players.

Sitting tied for second in the Pac-12 with UCLA senior running back Zach Charbonnet at 10 rushing touchdowns on the season, Valladay has proven to have a knack for the end zone. But he’s a much different rusher than Charbonnet, with a leaner frame and a quicker burst. And although he doesn’t initiate contact in the same vein as Charbonnet, he doesn’t shy away from using his stiff arm.

Even though Valladay is still a focal point of this offense, the Sun Devils showed flashes of something different last week with interim head coach Shaun Aguano assuming the play-calling duties for the first time this season.

Bourguet threw 43 passes, the most of any Arizona State quarterback this season, and looked decisive in the pocket, spreading the ball around to numerous receivers.

His top target is a big reason why Bourguet broke out against Colorado. Wide receiver Elijhah Badger has proven himself as one of the best receivers in the country after the catch. The redshirt sophomore, who scarcely saw the field prior to 2022, has notched back-to-back 100-yard receiving games.

Badger is a weapon with the ball in his hands, often turning short crossing routes into big gains.

Tight end Jalin Conyers also came alive for the first time all season last week. After totaling just 76 receiving yards through his first six games of the season, Conyers caught six passes for 108 yards and three touchdowns against the Buffaloes.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly has heaped praise on Bourguet all week, calling him the best decision-maker the Bruins will face all year. This offense has undergone a shift with a new face under center, moving away from some of the designed quarterback runs that it ran with Jones in favor of a more pass-heavy approach.

But it seems the change in scheme hasn’t slowed down the Sun Devils at all.

With Valladay, Badger, Conyers and crew presenting threats at all three levels and Bourguet looking comfortable and confident in Arizona State’s offense, this is an entirely new group than it was a few weeks ago.

While the Sun Devils have been below average statistically through eight games, this offense looks like it has turned a corner. UCLA will present a tougher test defensively than Colorado did, but Arizona State could turn some heads on the offensive end Saturday.

Arizona State’s defense
Defensive scheme: 4-2-5
Strength: Secondary
Weakness: Pressure
X-factor: DB Ed Woods

The Sun Devils’ defense, however, is less of a mystery.

Since its season-opening blowout over Northern Arizona, Arizona State has given up 30-plus points in six of its last seven games, only containing Stanford’s inept offense.

The Sun Devils led the conference in scoring defense a season ago, conceding just over 20 points per game. More importantly, Arizona State stymied a red-hot UCLA offense in the two teams’ matchup in 2021, holding the Bruins to 23 points.

However, this is a vastly different defense than the one that gave UCLA trouble last year.

Arizona State has been susceptible against both the run and the pass, ranking below average in the Pac-12 in rushing and passing yards allowed per game.

But perhaps most notably, the Sun Devils have been abysmal in the red zone thus far. Arizona State ranks tied for 119th in the country with opponents scoring on 91.4% of red-zone attempts.

Where Arizona State can potentially turn the tables is through forcing turnovers. The Sun Devils have gone 17 straight games with a takeaway, marking the second-longest active streak in the FBS.

Most of those turnovers come through the air, with Arizona State’s nine interceptions on the year ranking tied for 22nd in the nation. With solid cornerbacks outside and a pair of ball-hawking safeties with two picks apiece this season, this secondary has proven to be a centerpiece of this defense despite being relatively young.

Their secondary will need to be at its best Saturday because the Sun Devils generate little pressure on the quarterback, possessing the eighth-lowest sack rate in the country.

That being said, just like he did with the offense, Aguano has shifted the mindset of this defense since he took over for former coach Herm Edwards after week three.

The Sun Devils have been more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball in recent weeks, blitzing with more frequency while relying on a more man-to-man-heavy scheme on the back end.

Still, although this secondary has proven to be up to the task for the most part, it has been burnt down the field on occasion. More importantly, the secondary is undersized, providing a favorable matchup for Charbonnet. If UCLA’s star running back finds his way to the next level against this group, it might be nothing but green grass ahead.

The Sun Devils may get one off redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but Arizona State doesn’t have the personnel or the lockdown scheme to slow down UCLA’s offense as it did a season ago. Although Aguano looks to be exceeding expectations with this group, this won’t be the defense to slow down the Bruins’ high-powered offense.

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Sam Settleman | Sports editor
Settleman was the 2022-2023 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman was the 2022-2023 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
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