Red-hot Sun Devils host Joshua Kelley, UCLA for senior night
Just two weeks ago, all seemed lost for ASU football. The Sun Devils had lost four of their last five and were slipping to irrelevancy. Oh, how things have changed.
Arizona State cruised past No. 15 Utah last weekend, improving its record to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in Pac-12 play.
With three games left in the season, the Sun Devils control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South race. If ASU can win its last three games, it will book a trip to Santa Clara for the Pac-12 Championship.
To begin that quest to the Pac-12 Championship, ASU hosts 2-7 UCLA for senior night. After a midseason surge, UCLA has fallen back into the Pac-12 South’s cellar after losses to Utah and Oregon by a combined 52 points.
What: UCLA vs. Arizona State
When: Noon, Saturday
TV: Pac-12 Networks
How will N’Keal Harry play in what’s likely his last game at Sun Devil Stadium?
In the last few games, N’Keal Harry has finally played like N’Keal Harry.
Before the Stanford game, Harry had exceeded 90 receiving yards just once all season, but since then, he’s done it every game. Against Utah, Harry had maybe the best game of his ASU career, catching nine passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns.
Because of high draft projections, there is a good chance this is Harry’s last game at Sun Devil Stadium, and he will look to go out with a bang. If UCLA’s defense plays like it has lately, Harry could go off once again.
Can ASU stop Joshua Kelley?
In spite of the Bruins’ offensive struggles this year, there has been one bright spot: Joshua Kelley.
Kelley has been among the most consistent backs in college football this season. The junior has rushed for more than 100 yards in five of UCLA’s last six games, and in the one game he didn’t, Kelley ran for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Even though ASU eased past Utah last week, the Sun Devils had trouble containing running back Zack Moss in the win. Arizona State’s run defense is ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in rushing yards allowed per game, averaging 158.7.
Will Manny Wilkins build off his strong performance last week?
For most of the season, the only consistent part of quarterback Manny Wilkins’ game has been inconsistency. That wasn’t the case against Utah.
The senior completed 19 of his 24 pass attempts for 285 yards and three touchdowns against the Utes. While this was likely Wilkins’ best game of the season, he can build off that impressive performance against the Bruins this week.
UCLA’s pass defense has slowly improved over the course of the season, but by no means is it elite. Look for the Wilkins-Harry combination to be particularly explosive Saturday against a middling group of defensive backs.
Can ASU’s secondary continue its recent success?
Since Danny Gonzales was hired as defensive coordinator, ASU has seen significant improvement in one area — its secondary. The pass defense was brutal in ASU’s win over Utah, forcing three interceptions and allowing only 147 passing yards.
As it stands, Arizona State’s pass defense is ranked fifth in the Pac-12, which is much improved from when the Sun Devils were 11th in the conference last year.
This week, the defense is tasked with stopping UCLA quarterbacks Wilton Speight and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who have split snaps lately due to inconsistent production from both quarterbacks. While both of them have the potential to put up numbers, they have both struggled with ball security this season. If the front can put pressure on UCLA’s line, the Sun Devils may force multiple takeaways this week.
Key Sun Devils
QB Manny Wilkins
Wilkins’ numbers aren’t the same as they were last season, but even so, he’s shown flashes of brilliance at times. That was on full display against Utah, and he will look to build on that in the last home game of his career.
Because UCLA’s secondary is slightly better than its front, Wilkins might also use his versatility and ability to run to his advantage.
LB Merlin Robertson
In his first season wearing maroon and gold, linebacker Merlin Robertson has been a force on ASU’s defense. He won the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week for his contributions in ASU’s win over Michigan State, and most recently, he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week against Utah.
Robertson recorded nine tackles and one for a loss against the Utes, plus he also recorded the first interception of his career. Robertson will be a key factor in limiting Kelley’s production and getting to the line of scrimmage.
RB Joshua Kelley
In an offense that struggled all season, Kelley has been the one consistent source of production, averaging more than five yards per carry. After not doing much in the Bruins’ first three games, Kelley has been among the Pac-12’s best running backs, reaching the end zone seven times.
Kelley could once again put up big numbers if ASU has as much trouble tackling him as they did Moss.
LB Keisean Lucier-South
UCLA’s defense has been inconsistent over the course of the season, but junior linebacker Keisean Lucier-South has been a leader for the Bruins. Lucier-South leads the team in tackles for loss with 11.5, and he’s also forced a team-high three takeaways.
ASU running back Eno Benjamin is second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards, so Lucier-South will need to be physical if the Bruins want to limit his contributions to the ASU offense.