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UCLA Football Arizona State Preview: Special Teams May Make The Difference

If this game turns into a shootout like it did in 2012 and 2013, it could come down to the play of Special Teams.

Todd Graham is in his fourth season at ASU.
Todd Graham is in his fourth season at ASU.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

ASU is a team which is probably better than its record. Currently. they are 2-2, having lost their season opener to Texas A&M and last week to USC. When the Sun Devils come into the Rose Bowl later today, they will probably have a chip on their shoulder. They will be looking to prove that they are better than 2-2. They will also be looking to avenge last year's 62-27 loss at home. Let's look at the coaching staff.

Coaching Staff

Head Coach Todd Graham is someone who seems to like to talk a big game. That's probably because he's from Texas. Everything is bigger in Texas, after all.

For instance, last week, Graham said about USC's running backs, "no doubt the best running backs that we'll play I think all year long." Here's hoping the Bruins give him a warm introduction to Paul Perkins and Nate Starks.

Graham began his head coaching career coaching HS football in Texas and Oklahoma. His longest career stop was when he coached at Allen (TX) HS for 6 years. After spending two seasons under Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, he spent three years as Tulsa's DC. He was hired as the head coach at Rice but only spent a year there before bolting back to Tulsa where he spent four seasons. He then left there to go to Pittsburgh, but, again, only stayed for one season, accepting the ASU job at the end of the year.

He's posted a combined 79-43 record as a Division I head coach including this season so far, which is his fourth year at ASU.

Whether he'll stay for the long-term remains to be seen, but he's led the Sun Devils to consecutive 10 wins seasons each of the past two years. So, he's been successful turning one of the conference's teams around in a short period of time.

A lot of that credit probably goes to Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell.

Norvell has been with Graham since he was at Tulsa. So far this season, Norvell's offense has been averaging 25 points a game. But, more telling is that, in the team's two wins, they've average 34.5 ppg and, in their losses, they've only averaged 15.5 ppg.

Norvell's offense has been a high powered machine at ASU, averaging more than 35 ppg each of the last two seasons. Taking this into account, it wouldn't be surprising to see Norvell get a shot as a head coach somewhere soon.

Defensively, the Sun Devils are led by Keith Patterson who is in his second season with ASU. Patterson's career closely follows Todd Graham's career. He goes all the way back with Graham to Allen HS.

Last season, Patterson's defense finished 6th in turnover margin at +14 and they led the conference with 14 interceptions while recording 39 sacks.

Special Teams

The Sun Devils have a punt returner in redshirt junior running back De'Chavon Hayes. So far this season, Hayes has returned 8 punts for 46 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per return. Hayes will also return kickoffs, averaging 22 yards per return on 7 returns.

But, he will likely share kickoff return duties with Tim White or even former Bruin Devin Lucien.

The placekicking duties will be handled by Zane Gonzalez who had very good seasons in 2013 and 2014. But, he's a college kicker and, so far this year, he's been a little shaky. While he's 50 for 63 in his career with a long of 49, he's only made 3 of 6 field goal attempts and, so far, his long this year is only 24 yards.

Matt Haack is the Sun Devil punter. He's averaging 43.8 yards per punt with no touchbacks, six fair catches and 7 kicks inside the 20. With only six fair catches so far this year, it would seem like Devin Fuller or UCLA's other return men may be able to break off a few big returns again today.

Based on the way these two teams played in 2012 and 2013, big returns may just make a difference.

Go Bruins!!!