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UCLA Football at ASU Preview: ASU Has the Run Game UCLA Lacks

ASU’s offensive line is rebuilding, but it is backed by talented running backs and a diverse receiving corps.

NCAA Football: California at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the Bruins take on 4-1 Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday at 7:30. Last week, ASU went into the game against USC undefeated, and walked out with a 21-point loss and an injured quarterback. ASU is known for running multiple offensive schemes, and has put up 215 points in five games (the Bruins have 141), ranking 17th nationally in scoring offense. Let’s take a look at the offense that our defense will (hopefully) dismantle.

Quarterback

Redshirt sophomore Quarterback Manny Wilkins was actually off to a pretty good start this year. Up until his injury, he had a 65% completion percentage and he had thrown for over 1,200 yards, even though he entered this season with little to no experience as a college football quarterback. He left the game last weekend against USC and is questionable for this Saturday against the Bruins. Todd Graham said that Wilkins’s x-rays came back good and, "the good thing is that it’s [his absence] not going to be for an extended period of time. We’ll see. He’s out of his boot and all that stuff. So we’ll see. The good news is it wasn’t anything significant." So it looks like Wilkins will be a game time decision, but it unlikely that he will play. Freshman Brady White has just 13 passing attempts coming into the game after Wilkins, so it’s hard to say what he’s really capable of. He lost the starting job to WIlkins, mostly because of his tendency to throw interceptions (I like where this is going...). He also isn't the rusher that Wilkins is, so it is likely that their offense will see some tweaks this time. A former four-star high school prospect, he is the highest-rated quarterback to sign with Arizona State during the internet recruiting-service era. Until Wilkins returns, he is their #1 guy.

Offensive Line

The offensive line was the biggest question at the start of ASU’s season. There has been some shifting already this year, and we also need to consider that they lost four starters. Only one returns with extensive game time experience, left tackle Evan Goodman. Goodman is a redshirt senior, with the quickness to engage defenders and keep them off balance. He started in 11 games at the left tackle position for the Sun Devils last season. Left guard Sam Jones is characterized as having a great frame and build for his position, and can play multiple positions on the offensive line. At the center position, both junior transfer A.J. McCollum and redshirt senior Stephon McCray have started. McCollum has been a rising star with a size advantage on the line, and if he starts, McCray moves to right guard. Redshirt sophomore Bailey Quinn will start at right tackle, and at 6’5", 307 pounds, he adds depth and size to a line that can use some stability and help this year.

Wide Receivers

ASU has a corps of receivers that are capable of giving our secondary some trouble, and true freshman N’Keal Harry has arguably made the most noise in the 2016 ASU recruiting class. He was considered by Rivals to be the number one wide receiver in the country, and Harry has made it clear that he not only wants to play as a freshman, but he wants to be a Freshman All-American. At 6’4" and 225 pounds, he is a gifted athlete that can also dunk a basketball. Receivers coach Jay Norvell (remember him?) says, "he’s got a lot of skill. He’s strong. He can run. He’s got really good ball skills, and he’s sudden on the foot. He may not have Olympic speed, but he’s got game speed and that’s important. There’s a lot of different kinds of receivers, (but he's) definitely a big guy with great ball skills who has a chance to be very, very good at our level." Redshirt senior and transfer Tim White was one of ASU’s top performing newcomers in 2015. He has exceptional acceleration with the ability to stop on a dime and make strong transitions while route running, and is also a member of the Sun Devil Track & Field program. Redshirt senior Kody Kohl is listed as both a wide receiver and a tight end, but will start at tight end this year. He had a season long 36-yard reception this year against Texas Tech, but had no stats for the game versus USC. Last year he recorded 32 receptions for 368 yards and four touchdowns. Redshirt Junior Cameron Smith has 10 receptions so far this year for a total of 170 yards. Clearly, this group is talented and may be the most diverse group of receivers our defense has seen this year. This will be a good test as we move further into conference play.

Running Backs

ASU currently ranks 40th in the FBS for rushing offense, averaging over 200 yards on the ground per game, which is something the Bruins have lacked this year. UCLA ranks 72nd in rushing defense, allowing an average of 170 yards per game (luckily, ASU ranks 128th in passing defense, but that’s a stat for another article later this week). The Sun Devil junior running back Kalen Ballage set school and Pac-12 records (rushing and total) and tied an NCAA record held by Illinois’ Howard Griffith with eight touchdowns (seven rushing) in a 68-55 win over Texas Tech on September 10. Interestingly enough, six of Ballage’s eight touchdowns came via direct snap in a highly creative game plan devised by first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. He combines power and speed, and is also a skilled pass receiver. Junior Demario Richard is also a solid starting running back, with 97 rushing attempts and 374 yards so far on the season. He has one rushing touchdown, and his longest reception was for 20 yards last weekend against USC.

Analysis

This group is rebuilding on the line, but has a talented receiving corps and a decent run game. We have GOT to capitalize on the loss of their starting quarterback. This will be a true test of our defense, due in part to the multiple schemes they run, but also because their offensive coordinator is new and clearly creative. We need to be able to both pass rush and stop the run. I have confidence in our defense, and although this will not be an easy win, I think we can take ‘em. This game definitely has implications as far as the conference is concerned, because if the Bruins win, both schools will be 4-2 in the south and UCLA would hold the tie-breaker should it come down to that at the end of the season. As usual, another "must win", with major consequences down the road.

Go Bruins!