Arizona State's offense obviously takes a big hit this week with the loss of quarterback Taylor Kelly. Kelly might not be the most impressive looking QB physically compared to the other signal callers in the Pac-12, but he has led the Sun Devils for the past three seasons and in the top echelon of quarterbacks in the country. In his place, Jr. Mike Bercovici will get the start. Bercovici isn't a big guy, standing at 6'1 200 lbs., but he's a capable runner and passer that can put points on the board for ASU. I doubt their playbook will be restricted at all with Bercovici, so our defense cannot relax just because the backup is starting.
Last year, the Sun Devil's pass protection was a big issue all year. They allowed 40 sacks (118th in the NCAA). They have only allowed 4 sacks thus far this season, but pass protection could be an area that UCLA can exploit this week.
The star of ASU's receiving corps is Jalean Strong. Strong is 6'4" and has 266 yards on the year on 19 receptions. The team as a whole has 51 receptions thus far, so you can see how much of an emphasis the Sun Devils have in getting Strong the ball. Cameron smith is the next leading receiver among the wideouts, and he only has 7 catches for 103 yards thus far.
Aside from Strong, the other main receiving threat is D.J. Foster, who is ASU's best all around player on offense. Foster has 11 catches for 139 yards, and last year had 63 catches for 653 yards. How the Bruins choose to attack Grice will be interesting. Last year, Myles Jack spent most of the ASU game playing running back, and Marion Grice had an excellent day catching the ball. He has the athleticism to play Foster in the passing game, and I would expect to see him shadowing Foster on Thursday.
Foster will also play a huge role in the running game. The running game has also been an asset for the Sun Devils this season, where they are averaging over 300 yards thus far. Again, the opponents have not been the best, but that's impressive production on any level. Foster has 510 yards and 5 touchdowns this year on 54 carries.
Kelly is ASU's second leading rusher, and while Bercovici is not the same level of runner that Kelly is, I would expect him to run the ball some on Thursday. The other ball carriers are freshmen Demorio Richard and Kalen Ballage, two young backs that UCLA targeted in recruiting. Ballage will add a thumper to ASU's backfield, and at 6'3 220 lbs., he's definitely big enough for that role.
With Kelly missing, I like this matchup for the UCLA defense. UCLA should be able key on stopping ASU's running game and forcing Bercovici to throw the ball to people other than Strong and Foster. We obviously won't make the same mistake in keeping Myles Jack off the field defensively, and he should play a big role in slowing down Foster.