ASU vs. UCLA: What to watch for

Oct 26, 2012, 7:13 PM | Updated: 8:29 pm

Arizona State will have had eight full days to recover from the nationally-televised whooping applied to them by the fourth-ranked Oregon Ducks when they take the field at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday against UCLA.

The Bruins are well-rested themselves, after having a bye week following their 21-14 win over Utah on October 13.

Both teams come in a 5-2, seeking bowl eligibility and jockeying for position in the Pac-12 South with just five games remaining on the schedule.

Here’s what to watch for in Saturday’s pivotal Pac-12 clash…

The Mazzone factor – UCLA’s offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, spent the last two seasons in the same capacity at Arizona State, so it’s only fair to say that he’s got a pretty good working knowledge of ASU’s personnel.

But a lot has changed since he left — Taylor Kelly was third on ASU’s QB depth chart last season, now he’s running the show. The Sun Devils didn’t have D.J. Foster in 2011, and he’s leading the team in yards from scrimmage. While Mazzone was in Tempe, Jamal Miles was a main cog in the offense. This season, Miles has touched the ball only 26 times on offense and hasn’t delivered much.

On the flip side, many of ASU’s defensive players are familiar with what Mazzone does in his offensive scheme. It’s something to watch for, but as always, it comes down to execution.

And it’ll be nice to see all the flair passes return to Sun Devil Stadium…ok, maybe not.

Will youth be served? – Foster has received a lot of attention for the role he’s played in ASU’s success as a true freshman. Foster became just the third true freshman to start a season opener on offense since 1972, and his start against NAU was the only one by an offensive freshman this season.

UCLA, on the other hand, is all about the youngsters. In their last game against Utah, head coach Jim Mora started seven freshman! Seven! Center Jake Brendel (redshirt), right tackle Simon Goines (redshirt), quarterback Brett Hundley (redshirt), tailback Steven Manfro (redshirt), receiver Jordan Payton, receiver Kenneth Walker and left tackle Torian White (redshirt) were all in on the first offensive play.

There are five freshman running first string on UCLA’s weekly depth chart this week.

Johnathan Franklin – Is he as good as his numbers? – Franklin comes into this game leading the Pac-12 in rushing, averaging 125.4 yards per game.

Closer examination of his numbers however, shows that almost half of that output came in UCLA’s first two games of the season. Franklin exploded for 214 yards against Rice and 217 against Nebraska. Since then, the senior has run for 447 yards in five games with Oregon State and Utah both holding him well under 100 yards. He’s got one rushing touchdown since the Rice game.

In his career against ASU, Franklin has 26 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown.

The bounceback? – Taylor Kelly has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the Pac-12 this season. An afterthought during the spring as he got third-team reps, Kelly dedicated himself over the summer, won the starting quarterback job and has flourished in the role. Going into the UCLA game, Kelly leads the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and ranks eighth in the nation in that category.

But for the first time in his career, Kelly is coming off of a bad performance. He threw two (bad) interceptions in last week’s loss to Oregon, and looked flustered doing it.

Now we’ll get to see how Kelly responds from adversity. If he responds well, ASU will have a good shot to leave the stadium Saturday with at least a share of the Pac-12 South lead.

Execution in the red zone – ASU has had their struggles in the red zone this season, particularly in conference play. A tweet by Doug Haller of The Arizona Republic paints a bleak picture — the Devils are scoring touchdowns on only 42% of their red zone trips. Add in an uncertain kicking situation with sophomore Jon Mora taking over on field goals for Alex Garoutte, and the pressure becomes even greater on ASU to get six every time they cross the UCLA 20-yard line.

Incidentally, the Bruins are tied for 69th in the nation in red zone defense, allowing points 83% of the time and touchdowns on 11 of 19 opponents’ opportunities.

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