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No. 24 Arizona State aims to rebound from Utah this week at UCLA

Arizona State wide receiver Kyle Williams, right, fends off the tackle of UCLA safety Adarius Pickett, left, after a catch during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

Sparky took a right hook to the horn last week as No. 24 Arizona State dropped 21-3 at Utah. It was the first time this season that the Sun Devils looked outmatched, but they have a chance to bounce back this Saturday.

ASU travels to the Rose Bowl to take on UCLA, a developing team with plenty of flaws still.

The Bruins won big at Stanford last week after getting pummeled by Oregon State at home the game prior. But, the Bruins were without starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson against OSU, and the sophomore has won two of his past three starts.

ASU has won three of its past four meetings against UCLA, but the Bruins kept it close last season in Tempe with a 31-28 defeat.

“They got better, the quarterback is playing better,” head coach Herm Edwards said on Monday. “This team has athletes, they have explosive players on offense. They play with a lot of energy and they have the same conference record as us at 2-2.

“This should be a good game for us.”

Essential Info

What: Arizona State (5-2, 2-2) @ UCLA (2-5, 2-2)

When: Saturday, at 4:30 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: ESPN 620 AM

About UCLA

The Bruins have a dubious 2-5 record, but their nonconference schedule was brutal. Their three opponents are currently a combined 19-2, two of which are in the AP Top-25 (Cincinnati and Oklahoma).

Since then, the offense has produced 149 points in four Pac-12 games. Thompson-Robinson has completed 60% of his throws for 879 yards along with eight touchdowns in his three conference games.

Five of those touchdowns came during a slugfest between UCLA and Washington State, a game that the Bruins won 67-63.

However, UCLA is a run-first team that relies on senior halfback Joshua Kelley.

He rushed for 176 yards against Stanford, and stopping his attack will be a major focus for ASU.

On defense, UCLA has struggled for the majority of the season, especially against the pass.

It allowed five touchdown passes against OSU and nine against Wazzu. It held Stanford to 16 points and under 200 total yards last week, but the Cardinal was playing its third-string quarterback.

UCLA has allowed the third-most yards through the air in the FBS this season.

How ASU matches up

Last season, ASU ran the ball extremely well against UCLA with 281 yards on 59 carries. Halfback Eno Benjamin gained 182 yards and scored a touchdown.

The Bruins rush defense has improved this year, although the Beavers and Cougars were able to penetrate it.

If Benjamin has another huge game, then ASU will have beaten the best aspect of UCLA’s defense.

Sun Devil quarterback Jayden Daniels had by far his worst game in college last week at Utah with 4-for-18 passing and 25 yards. But, UCLA pass coverage isn’t anything like the Utes’, so this is a major bounce-back opportunity for him.

Plus, the Bruins have not dealt with a mobile quarterback since facing Oklahoma, when Jalen Hurts ran all over the field for 150 yards. Daniels is no Hurts, at least not yet, but he could potentially do the same against UCLA, especially on option plays if Benjamin starts off well.

Defensively, ASU’s line will determine what happens in this game. The pass rush looked much improved against Utah than in weeks prior, and if the Devils can get pressure on Thompson-Robinson, he can be turnover prone.

The Sun Devils have one of the better rush defenses in the FBS as well, and Edwards knows that its performance will be vital.

“UCLA runs the ball more than people imagine, they do a lot of shifting in motion, you have to be ready for that,” Edwards said. “They aren’t a finesse offense. Our interior of the front seven has to understand their gaps because their back is a home run hitter.”

Final thought

ASU’s schedule continues to teeter between strong and underwhelming defenses. This week it faces the latter, and the Sun Devil offense should find its footing and move the ball.

But, UCLA is capable of putting together a strong offensive performance likes its burst against Wazzu, so winning the battle on the defensive front is the key to putting the Bruins away.

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