anthony barr

Early Analysis: UCLA vs. Arizona State

Will Anthony Barr and UCLA make a statement on Senior Night at the Rose Bowl? Or will the Sun Devils play spoiler? Photo: USA Today


No. 19 Arizona State at No. 14 UCLA
Saturday, 7:00 PM, Fox
Line: Arizona State -2.5

A critically important Pac-12 South showdown will take place in Pasadena Saturday night. Arizona State controls their own destiny in the division; if they defeat UCLA on Saturday night, they will advance to the Pac-12 Championship Game. A loss by the Sun Devils would mean that UCLA would be in the driver’s seat for the division crown.

Both teams are playing well under their second year head coaches. Arizona State has won five games in a row. The Bruins have won three straight since falling to Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks. With both teams playing rivalry games next week, there is no opportunity for either team to look ahead. This game has a chance to be a classic.

For Arizona State to win: Expect the unexpected. This is related in part to UCLA’s reliance on linebacker/running back Myles Jack. Jack, a freshman starting linebacker has been pressed into service to help jump start a moribund running game and he has delivered two great performances on the ground. What Arizona State needs to watch out for, though, is for new plays where Jack is on the field, but is not going to get the ball. Keying on Jack solely could lead to big plays behind the defense, and that is the last thing that the Sun Devils need.

For UCLA to win: Pressure the quarterback. The Sun Devils have struggled to protect the passer during the last two games of this winning streak. Quarterback Taylor Kelly has been sacked eight times over the past two games, and he also threw two interceptions in last week’s victory over Oregon State. UCLA has the ability to pressure the quarterback and create havoc in the backfield, and forcing Kelly to make decisions sooner than he wants to could lead to easy points for the Bruins.

Key Player, UCLA: Anthony Barr, linebacker. With all of the attention paid to Myles Jack recently, it can be easy to overlook this defensive stalwart. Barr is a stud linebacker who can also rush the passer, as evidenced by the seven sacks he has so far this season. If Barr is active and engaged and all over the field, he can be a nightmare for an Arizona State team playing on the road.

Key Player, Arizona State: Robert Nelson, cornerback. The leader of the Sun Devil defense has been a terror during the winning streak. The Sun Devils have picked off ten passes in their last five games while allowing only 18.8 points per game. Nelson has five of those interceptions. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has been known to throw questionable passes every now and then. If he does, and Nelson is in the area, chances are it will be a turnover. Look for Nelson’s ability to ball hawk as well as make tackles come into play Saturday night.

Key Stat: 3. The margin of victory for the winning team in the last two matchups. In 2011, the Bruins won 29-28, and last year in Tempe UCLA won 45-43.