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UCLA Football: Arizona State’s Shaky Quarterback Play May Benefit the Bruins

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The Sun Devils will bring a very green freshman quarterback to town coming off a disappointing loss.

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

The UCLA Bruins are coming off an impressive win a week ago, where quarterback play, the run game, and the defense finally came together in what was the most complete game UCLA has played in two years. On the other hand, the Arizona State Sun Devils are coming off a nasty 21-3 loss to Utah, where freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels had the worst game of his career, completing just four of his 18 throws for 25 yards and an interception.

Now, as ASU attempts to turn the lemons into lemonade, they come to Pasadena with the hope of leaving their worst loss behind and moving forward. Top that off with the fact that the Sun Devils have probably lost a quarterback to the transfer portal, and it looks like things are getting a bit shaky in Tempe.

Here is a breakdown of the offense UCLA will be defending on Saturday.

Quarterback

With the probable transfer of Dillon Sterling-Cole, Arizona State is left with three freshman at quarterback and Daniels is still the man going forward. He was a dual-threat prospect out of high school but, with over 1,600 passing yards in the air and just over 200 yards on the ground so far this year, it looks like head coach Herm Edwards is keeping Daniels in the pocket as much as he can. Last week’s 22% completion percentage was definitely an anomaly, as his lowest completion percentage prior was 58%. He has a very experienced and talented wide receiver group to get the ball to. So, his lack of experience at the college level can be balanced by a veteran receiving corps. He has ten touchdowns so far this year and will more than likely turn last weekend’s performance into a thing of the past.

Offensive Line

ASU’s offensive line has opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to experience. There are three seniors up front, but two freshman that moved up the depth chart due to injury issues before the season started. This could be contributing to the line’s inconsistent performance, as they are ranked #102 in the country in sacks allowed, letting opposing defenses notch just under three sacks per game.

Senior Cohl Cabral will be anchoring the line at center and he is probably the best thing going for the Sun Devil offensive line. He has been named to the Outland Trophy and Rimington Trophy preseason watch lists and he actually has the ability to play every position up front.

On the left, freshman LaDarius Henderson will start at tackle and redshirt senior Alex Losoya will start at guard. Henderson struggled last week and was even benched for a short period for his performance, but he’ll be back on the field on Saturday. Losoya worked his way into a starting role this year and was part of last year’s unit that was ranked #14 in the country in sacks allowed.

On the right side, freshman Dohnovan West will start at guard and redshirt senior Steven Miller will start at tackle. Miller earned a starting spot after only starting in four games last year while West is jumping in with both feet due to ASU’s injury woes. The Sun Devils have improved their run game significantly since the season started and are now averaging 131 yards per game and coming in at #100 nationally.

This offensive line is definitely young and has their work cut out for them in protecting a freshman quarterback. Last week won’t happen again, but the young line is surely a weakness that UCLA can exploit.

Receivers

Veteran receivers can help a young quarterback get comfortable and this is the case at ASU. Daniels’ top target this year has been senior Brandon Aiyuk, who has grabbed 32 receptions for 658 yards and five touchdowns. His average reception is over 20 yards downfield. So, Aiyuk is not going to be a receiver that UCLA cornerbacks can let slip by.

Redshirt junior Frank Darby and senior Kyle Williams will also be in the mix, with each totalling just over 200 yards for the season. Williams is definitely better in short yardage situations and hasn’t logged a touchdown yet, but Darby has one to his name and averages over 17 yards per reception.

With such an experienced group, UCLA’s defensive line is going to have to get to Daniels just like they got to Jack West last week. The objective should be getting hands on passes and shaking him up so he makes freshman mistakes and throws balls that even a seasoned veteran can’t snag. Hopefully, he’ll hang onto the ball too long and the Bruin defense can record another eight sacks.

Running Backs

Junior Eno Benjamin is by far the go-to man on the ground, but he also has 19 receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Benjamin’s run game is consistent as long as the line holds, notching 633 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games. Daniels is actually the next man on the stats sheet when it comes to the run game. So, Benjamin is the one who is primarily carrying the load at this point.

Sophomore A.J. Carter and redshirt junior Isaiah Floyd may also get a few carries to give Benjamin a break, but these two won’t take too many snaps.

Analysis

This game is definitely winnable. Taking advantage of a freshman quarterback and two freshmen up front will be big for UCL, and bringing the same team that beat Stanford last week will seal the deal.


Go Bruins!