We have talked a lot about how big this Saturday's game is for UCLA. On the other side ASU is treating the game with same sense of urgency. They are also getting a little fired up about rest of their season starting with UCLA:
"To take the fall that we have been taking for the last couple of weeks, we are doing pretty good," the redshirt freshman cornerback (Devon Carr) said Tuesday. "I still haven't seen anyone walking around the halls moping. … I still see positive energy within my team. I believe we will beat UCLA."
Carr is not the only one who thinks so. ASU players came off the practice field Tuesday giddy after coach Dennis Erickson's we-have-something-to-play-for speech.
"We got a two-game season," Erickson said, referring to Saturday's game in Pasadena, Calif., and the next week against Arizona. "Our kids have a lot of pride."
Good for the Sun Devils. I have no doubt those guys are going to be breathing fire when they come out on the field on Saturday. At the same time I also think our guys are going to remember what took place last time UCLA took on ASU:
UCLA held Arizona State to 122 yards last season but lost, 34-9, when the Sun Devils returned three interceptions and one fumble for touchdowns at Tempe. "It was a hard film to watch this week," Neuheisel said.
Painful indeed. It will be awesome if our defense can match the performance from last year's effort against ASU. This time the Sun Devils will have a different QB though and right now even though Erickson is being coy about it signs point to Sam Szakacsy as the starter for Saturday. Again, I said it yesterday and I will reinforce it again this am. This is a huge game for Chuck Bullough. We need his defense to come through and make a statement on Saturday with a strong performance from start to finish.
The numbers we put up against Washington State were nice. However, we also have to be realistic about putting up "good" numbers against a team like the Cougars. Doesn't really count for much except for gaiining some measure of confidence and sense of momentum. To hold on to that momentum, we need our defense to play with the same sense of aggression they did during the second half against Jake Locker and the Huskies when they were bringing pressure from different directions. More after the jump.Aaron Hester is one of the defensive players who is looking to make a contribution on Sat. He has been woofing it up a bit during practice this week:
UCLA defensive back Aaron Hester locked down wide receiver Nelson Rosario in practice Wednesday, then let the world know.
"Oh no, no sir, I'm all over that," Hester screamed.
Standing on the sidelines, tailback Damien Thigpen chuckled and said, "He thinks he's Deion Sanders."
There may be no better way to judge whether Hester is ready to play than to hear him at practice. His season has been one of disappointment, first a fractured fibula in the season opener and the waiting for a chance upon his return.
But Hester appeared fit and ready in practice.
"I feel just like I felt in training camp, exactly the same" said Hester, a redshirt freshman. "No pain. My confidence is back. I'm just out here trying to make some plays."
Hester is once again getting antsy about mixing it up on the field:
"I've been showing them this week in practice," Hester said. "I've been flying around making plays, making big hits. It's up to the coaches now. All I can do is play football and all they can do is put me in or not. I was the original starter here; I haven't forgot how to play football."
I like the kid's passion and enthusiasm but I am also going to trust the coaches on this one. The coaches were clearly making the right decision when they held out Hester and taking extra precaution to make sure he was completely healthy. I am pretty sure Hester will make his mark before he is done in Westwood but I am willing to be patient to make sure when he gets in, he is not only confident but fully healed and healthy. Either way, whoever is in at CB on Saturday will need to be physical. Especially if we have a QB like Samson Szakacsy, who can gain yards through scrambling, we are going to need our defensive backs not only provide tight coverage but also provide also recover and provide solid run support.
Speaking of QBs, Kevin Prince and the Bruin offense are showing lot of (deserved) respect for ASU defense:
"They just play real sound football," Prince said of the Sun Devils. "They don't do anything too crazy, or anything. They have their share of blitzes and all that but they just play really sound and fundamental football."
Prince's backfield team-mate called them the "best defense" in the Pac:
"They're the best defense in the Pac-10 right now, and their run defense is outstanding," said Chane Moline, who ran for three touchdowns last week. "Being a running back and fullback, it's a big challenge for us to go out there and start running the ball so the passing game will open up. We've got to go out there and execute, not shoot ourselves in the foot. Hopefully the running backs can break a couple of tackles and the wide receivers can make some big plays for us."
The key here will be not killing ourselves with self inflicted mistakes (Hello Mr. Paulsen, it's your last home game!).
Our offense a lot of fun to watch last two weekends (since didn't really get to watch that fourth quarter against Oregon State LIVE). This Saturday we will find out what kind of progression this offense has made against a legt defense from this conference. I think they also know the opportunity they have to gain a measure of validation to finish the season and also set themselves up for a great future. That will have to start with not just making solid plays but also emhasizing execution of little details on all facets of our offense.
Right now I am anxious to see how our offense performs against ASU. I haven't had this kind of excited (can't wait to watch them again) feeling about our offense in years. Hopefully they will take another significant step forward by getting us a victory on Saturday.