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UCLA Football vs. Arizona State Defensive Preview: Can UCLA Protect Josh Rosen?

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This Saturday, UCLA faces a mediocre defense with elite pass rushing.

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

Arizona State’s defense is about as bad as UCLA’s. They’ve allowed opponents to score 30 points or more in seven of nine games, are currently allowing 5.3 rushing yards per carry, and are 94th of 130 in points allowed per game.

Anchored by a strong front four with huge regression in talent as we move back, most UCLA fans will be licking their lips at the sight of this third-rate defensive corps (let us only pray our own defense holds up). Without further ado, here’s a summary of Arizona State’s defensive starters.

Defensive Line

Arizona State’s best defensive unit is their defensive line, which has produced 19 sacks so far this season. Arizona State has two fast, athletic defensive tackles in junior JoJo Wicker and senior Tashon Whitewood, who have combined this year for 9 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. These two are joined by Defensive End and breakout star Alani Latu (6 sacks in seven games). Decimation of the Arizona State defense starts with beating Arizona State’s front four as most of this defense’s luster comes from their ability to pressure the quarterback.

Linebackers

This year’s linebackers have been a solid unit and have provided solid pass rushing but lackluster defense against the run (5.3 yards per carry). The unit is anchored by junior Sam Christian who is averaging 10.5 tackles per game and senior DJ Calhoun (78 tackles, 3.5 sacks) with sophomore J’Marcus Rhodes typically playing weak side linebacker.

The linebackers have been relatively strong this season with all three linebackers talented enough to easily shift formation, pass rush, and play in pass coverage relatively well. They have struggled more in stopping the run, as opposing teams are averaging a little more than 178 rushing yards per game.

Secondary

This year’s secondary has, on the whole, been very inconsistent, more than often providing too little comfort for the front seven. Most of this can be chalked up to a lack of experience, with both starting cornerbacks Lucas Chase and Kobe Williams playing their first season this year. Add to that an injured safety in Dasmond Tautalatasi and UCLA will likely be facing one of the weakest secondary’s they’ve seen all season. The only thing which may be able to hinder UCLA’s passing attack is the absence of both Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley.

Analysis

The Arizona State defense is mediocre at best with a weak exploitable secondary and a subpar run defense. I doubt the secondary will be able to stop Rosen and UCLA’s passing game, at least not for long. Furthermore, ASU’s run defense is passive enough that UCLA will likely be able to run effectively and consistently.

UCLA’s biggest concern when facing this defense is controlling the pass rush. Arizona State has so many pass-rushing threats (eleven players have at least one sack) that it’s virtually guaranteed that they’ll bust open the O-line at some point. It would not be surprising to have the Sun Devils finish with 5+ sacks.

In conclusion, this is probably a favorable matchup for the Bruins. This is a beatable team and a defense which will more likely than not yield 35+ points. This game is essentially riding on UCLA’s defense.