After nine games, Arizona State finds itself in essentially the same place as UCLA. Both teams are in the middle of the Pac-12 fighting for a winning record. Both teams have been woefully inconsistent. And, both teams’ hopes have revolved around a good quarterback and a decent offense.
2017 has been a mixed bag for Arizona State: they are responsible for the Washington Huskies only loss (a 13-7 defensive showdown in mid-October), but have also been inconsistent, suffering four losses and allowing 30.8 points per game to opposing teams. The rock of this team has been the offense, which has scored 17 points or more in every game but one, and has been able to produce on the ground and in the air. Here’s a breakdown of the ASU offense.
The Arizona State offense centers around junior quarterback Manny Wilkins. Wilkins is a strong quarterback, he started ten games for the Sun Devils last year but struggled with lingering injuries. He is healthy this year and has improved most aspects of his game. That being said, Wilkins has flaws and is still developing. He struggles throwing while pressured and leaves the pocket for low yardage rushes too often. He has a strong and relatively accurate throwing arm (64.3% completion percentage, 3 interceptions to 11 touchdowns). Wilkins, combined with an impressive receiving corps, makes the ASU pass attack threatening but not overpowering.
There is no consensus number one back in Arizona State’s offense. The bulk of carries are shared between two veteran seniors, Demario Richard (125 carries, 568 yards) and Kalen Ballage (102 carries, 421 yards). Neither running back has proven to be explosive (only one 100+ yard game between them) and neither has been particularly active in the receiving game. Because the Sun Devils have varied greatly in their use of the run game, it’ll be interesting to see if they attack UCLA’s paltry front seven.
Probably the strongest unit of ASU’s offense, the wide receivers are headed by sophomore N’Keal Harry who broke the school’s reception record as a freshman. He has had an even better season this year, averaging 6.7 receptions per game, and has totaled 794 yards this season. Harry is assisted by sophomore Kyle Williams and junior Jalen Harvey, who are averaging a combined 107.3 yards per game. In short, ASU has several bona fide options in the receiving corps and it’s going to be difficult for UCLA to shut down every threat.
ASU’s offensive line has been their weak point. Faced with major questions heading into this season, they have especially struggled in pass protection. So far, they’ve allowed 31 sacks over nine games and only three D1 teams have allowed more. Exploiting the offensive line is UCLA’s best chance at shutting down this offense, especially considering how much quarterback Wilkins is affected by pressure.
This could be a close game, with both teams offering decent offenses and dreadful defenses. I think UCLA will probably struggle to hold down ASU for all four quarters and it’s likely that ASU will score 30+ points. As mentioned above, their best chance at victory is to beat up the O-line, pressure Manny Wilkins constantly, and beat the run game. I doubt UCLA can consistently stop the run. I think ASU’s play action will likely work and I think UCLA’s pass rushing will not be enough to stop Wilkins from hitting some of those strong offensive weapons. In conclusion, it may be another tough week for the Bruin defense.