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Arizona State Sun Devils vs. UCLA Bruins Preview and Prediction

Josh Rosen

Josh Rosen

Coming off a 42-14 Week 4 loss to USC, Arizona Statecan take some solace from its recent history.

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The Sun Devils dropped early-season Pac-12 contests to Stanford in 2013 by a 42-28 count that was much more lopsided than the final score indicates, and a 62-27 decision to UCLA a season ago. They rallied from both to win 10 games.

Arizona State is more against the wall now than any either of the last two campaigns, however. A loss Saturday in the Rose Bowl to UCLA drops the Sun Devils below .500 at 2-3, and a close-to-insurmountable 0-2 hole against Pac-12 South competition.

While Arizona State is trying to avoid falling behind 0-2, UCLA seeks a strong, 2-0 start and second season sweep of the Grand Canyon State.

The Bruins clicked in almost every phase of last week's 56-30 rout at Arizona, jumping to a big lead early and never relenting. The UCLA that showed up in Tucson looks like a front-runner not only in the South, but potentially the entire Pac-12 title race.

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Arizona State at UCLA

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV: Fox

Spread: UCLA -14

Three Things to Watch

1. Defending the Rose Bowl

For UCLA to go on the road into a hostile environment and take command so forcefully a week ago was certainly impressive. But then, road games gave the Bruins no trouble a season ago; they were unbeaten away from the Rose Bowl.

All three of UCLA's losses in 2014 came at home. That's a stat sure to linger over this year's Bruins until they emphatically defend their home turf.

UCLA's last time at home ended in dramatic fashion, with Nate Starks scoring a late touchdown and Myles Jack, since lost for the season to a knee injury, making a game-saving interception.

Exorcising the Sun Devils authoritatively should help exorcise some of the Rose Bowl demons that have plagued recent UCLA seasons.

2. UCLA's Run Defense

The one perhaps shaky facet of UCLA's otherwise thoroughly dominant showing in Arizona was its defense of the run. The Wildcats ran for 353 yards against a Bruin front seven missing Jack and defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes.

Whether that was defensive coordinator Tom Bradley's concession for limiting Arizona to 115 yards through the air, or a byproduct of a larger problem with UCLA's injuries should be readily apparent early Saturday.

The Arizona State offense typically thrives with a balance of run and pass. However, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell has had challenges establishing a consistent ground attack, the result of running back Kalen Ballage missing time due to illness and quarterback Mike Bercovici lacking the ball-carrying ability of predecessor Taylor Kelly.

Norvell has attempted using explosive back Demario Richard on swing passes more frequently as a way to reinvigorate the run. Containing such plays for UCLA was often the responsibility of Jack.

3. Fight or Flight for Arizona State

From the moment head coach Todd Graham arrived at Arizona State, he preached mental toughness. The prelude to his arrival was a 2011 Sun Devil team, considered a contender for the Pac-12 championship, imploding down the stretch after a series of tough losses.

Facing an 0-2 Pac-12 and 2-3 overall start promises to check the mental toughness of this year's Sun Devils. As mentioned, past Arizona State squads under Graham rallied from seemingly crushing defeats. Winning at the Rose Bowl with UCLA rolling may be too tall a task as the Sun Devils continue fleshing out their identity, but they need keep it close out.

Another blowout could send Arizona State toward a disastrous finish.

Final Analysis

Arizona State couldn't draw UCLA at a worse time. The Bruins are playing with confidence and continuously adding new elements to their already dangerous look.

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Heisman-contending running back Paul Perkins having the duo of Soso Jamabo and Starks share carries with him gives UCLA arguably the most dangerous backfield in the Pac-12. Quarterback Josh Rosen's been up-and-down, as one would expect of a true freshman.

But when he's on, as he was at Arizona, there are few in the conference better.

The energy with which Arizona State comes out early will indicate how this game — if not the Sun Devils' entire remainder of 2015 — is destined to go.

Prediction: UCLA 35, Arizona State 17

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.