Stanford, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - With their national title hopes dwindling, the 13th-ranked Stanford Cardinal will try to make up some ground in a critical matchup with the ninth-ranked UCLA Bruins at Stanford Stadium.
For UCLA, which is ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2005, all signs are pointing up. The Bruins own a 5-0 record after dispatching California last weekend (37-10). It was an impressive victory for the Bruins (5-0) as they held the Pac-12's second-best passing offense to just done a good three different players with at least 20 receptions. Jaydon Mickens (34 receptions, 323 yards, two TDs) has been reliable, though he had a key drop against Oregon. Meanwhile Kevin Smith (24 receptions, 389 yards, two TDs) and Kasen Williams (24 receptions, 374 yards, TD) have also been critical performers. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (16 receptions, 185 yards, three TDs) is a favorite target in the red zone.
Though it got gashed for 631 total yards and 30 first downs by Oregon, the Washington defense did show some strength by holding the Ducks to a season-low six touchdowns. It's not saying much but it certainly points in a more positive light for a Washington unit that is fourth in the league in total defense (345 ypg). The Huskies had been the top ranked defense in the Pac-12 entering last weekend.
Washington will need to be on its toes defensively again this week as the team faces a talented offensive squad in Arizona State. The Sun Devils are posting 44.2 points and nearly 500 yards of total offense per game, ranking third and fifth respectively, in the conference in each category.
The scoring responsibilities have largely fallen to Marion Grice. The hybrid running back, who will also line up on the outside at times, has scored a national-best 15 total touchdowns this season (10 rushing, five receiving). Grice isn't just used around the goal line as he leads the team in rushing attempts (90) and rushing yards (395), while posting impressive numbers for a running back through the air (29 receptions, 265 yards).
Having a weapon like Grice takes some of the pressure off quarterback Taylor Kelly, who has thrown for 1,965 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, while completing 62 percent of his pass attempts with six interceptions. Kelly can also make teams pay on the ground, though he has been more limited in that area this season.
Grice isn't the only player that Kelly has been getting his passes to. Jaelen Strong (42 receptions, 678 yards, four TDs) has been one of the most dangerous wideouts in the country, ranking third in the Pac-12 in receiving yards. While Strong is the deep-threat, D.J. Foster, who also gets time at running back, has been a solid possession receiver. Foster is averaging just 10.4 yards per reception but has 32 catches on the year.
In terms of overall defense Arizona State has been a mediocre squad. The Sun Devils are fifth in total yards allowed (372.2 ypg) in the conference. However, the numbers show that they have been one of the better teams in the conference in stopping the pass. In fact other than Washington and Oregon, no team in the Pac-12 lets up fewer passing yards per game than the Sun Devils (203.3 ypg). The play in the secondary of Alden Darby (two INTs, four passes defended), Osahon Irabor (two INTs) and Robert Nelson (two INTs) has been critical.