What to watch: No. 11 UCLA at No. 15 Arizona State

UCLA starts Pac-12 play tonight at 7 p.m. with one of the most high-profile college football games of the week. No. 15 Arizona State doesn’t have starting quarterback Taylor Kelly, but remains the defending division champion.

Here’s are a few things to watch:

UCLA offense vs. Arizona State defense:

A lot obviously hinges on whether or not Brett Hundley plays after injuring his left elbow on Sept. 13, but it’s a good bet that the star quarterback suits up after practicing with a protective brace over the past week. UCLA’s coaching staff has insisted that the playbook doesn’t change with backup Jerry Neuheisel, but Hundley stretches the field with his arm and legs in a way that Neuheisel can’t.

Assuming Hundley goes, UCLA’s offense could be the first team that truly exposes an ASU defense that lost nine starters from its Pac-12 South-winning unit. The Sun Devils are still forcing takeaways — No. 7 nationally in turnover margin (1.67) — they’ve given up big plays despite a lackluster early schedule. ASU allows 5.41 yards per play, good for 74th in college football but a mark that looks far worse when you consider that it has faced an FCS team (Weber State), a below-average Mountain West team (New Mexico) and arguably the worst team in the Pac-12 (Colorado). Those latter rank just 82nd and 89th in the country in scoring, respectively, at 28.3 and 25.8 points per game.

So if Hundley avoids interceptions against a decent secondary, he should do enough to break open the game. He has a reliable No. 1 tailback next to him now in Paul Perkins — who’s coming off a career game with 195 all-purpose yards against Texas — and an offensive line that seems to be gelling more with each passing game.

If Neuheisel has to enter the game at any point, the matchup becomes a little more dicey. The redshirt sophomore perfectly fits the game-manager mold, and came through with a 33-yard game-winning touchdown against the Longhorns, but isn’t the dynamic threat that would scare a defense that has a full game’s worth of film on him.

Edge: UCLA

UCLA defense vs. Arizona State offense:

Myles Jack didn’t play linebacker against the Sun Devils last year, a tactical decision that Jim Mora still regards as one of his biggest regrets. Having him in this time on defense will be crucial against an Arizona State squad that has D.J. Foster — who could end up being an All-Pac-12 tailback at the end of the season.

Foster was a highly-sought UCLA recruit back in 2012, and UCLA’s coaches and players were happy to talk him up over the past week. He’s become a very effective runner and can grind out yards after contact, but is also a dangerous threat as a pass catcher. Continue reading

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Five questions: FOX Sports’ Tyler Lockman talks Arizona State

UCLA opens its conference schedule on Thursday with a big road game at No. 15 Arizona State — a primetime chance for the Bruins to prove themselves still capable of a juggernaut performance. FOX Sports Arizona’s Tyler Lockman answered five questions about the Sun Devils, who are without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly.

1. How do ASU fans feel about Todd Graham two-plus years in? Does he need to show progress after a Pac-12 South title to keep them satisfied?

It’s hard to imagine them feeling any better about Graham in year three. He has overhauled the program’s culture, taken the team to two bowl games, boosted recruiting and gotten unprecedented commitment — financially and otherwise — out of ASU’s administration. That’s all before mentioning the Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South and hosted the conference title game in his second season. On top of it all, he recently backed up his talk of a long-term commitment to ASU by donating $500,000 of his own money to ASU’s stadium renovation fund. How could ASU fans not be happy with him leading the program?

All that good will afford him some breathing room this season. Fans tempered their expectations a bit after ASU lost nine defensive starters to graduation and the NFL following last season, so while Graham and the players expect themselves to at least match last season’s 10-4 finish, fans would probably be pretty happy to see ASU finish with eight or nine wins in what was expected to be a bit of a building year.

2. How does ASU’s defense look after losing nine starters? Might it get exposed against a more potent offense?

It’s hard to tell exactly where the defense is because ASU has so far faced an FCS team (Weber State), a team that runs the triple option offense (New Mexico) and a team that has two conference wins in the past two seasons (Colorado). Continue reading

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Jim Mora: Lack of clarity on Brett Hundley doesn’t give UCLA edge

As he has for most of the past week, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley practiced on Tuesday with a brace covering his left elbow — the one he injured in a 20-17 win against Texas 10 days ago.

And as he has for most of the past week, UCLA head coach Jim Mora didn’t offer many details: “He’s been limited. He’s done a few things. He’s worked a little bit.” He said again that he is relying on the team’s medical staff to determine if Hundley is ready — a decision that could stretch, naturally, as late as Thursday evening.

Mora added that the lack of clarity surrounding his star quarterback’s health doesn’t give UCLA any sort of tactical advantage heading into Thursday’s 7 p.m. kickoff at Arizona State, particularly given who the Sun Devils’ head coach is. Continue reading

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