Saturday will be one of joy for Pac-12 college football fans seeing the UCLA Bruins in Tempe taking on the Arizona State Sun Devils. While the Bruins have dodged any COVID-19-related issues on their squad playing four games in consecutive weeks, the Sun Devils are returning to the field for the first time since a 28-27 thriller against then-No. 20 USC on Nov. 7.
Those who may feel that the game has passed UCLA head coach Chip Kelly might be privately rethinking their stance. The Bruins are 2-2 with road losses to undefeated Colorado (48-42) and then-No. 11 Oregon (38-35) by a combined nine points. The Bruins looked impressive a week ago taking down visiting Arizona 27-10 behind 206 rushing yards from Demetric Felton.
A month ago, ASU's ground game looked formidable, especially with dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels rolling up the turf. Daniels nearly gained as many yards on the ground as he did with his arm, rushing for 111 on 11 carries while passing for 134 and a score off an 11-of-23 showing in the pocket. How Arizona State may look after such a long layoff is just one reason to tune in on Saturday.
UCLA at Arizona State
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Arizona State -3
When UCLA Has the Ball
Which UCLA quarterback will get the starting nod will determine the flow of the offense. Season-opening starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson has missed the last two games with an unspecified ailment. Thompson is not the most accurate of passers (51.5 percent completion rate) but has a live arm and can move the chains in a hurry on the ground when plays breakdown. Chase Griffin has started in Thompson's absence and showed better accuracy (60.8 percent) but has thrown for 175 fewer yards despite completing just three fewer passes.
Regardless of who is calling the plays in the huddle, the heart of the offense flows through running back Demetric Felton. The senior is second in the conference in rushing (537 yards) with four touchdowns. After a 10-carry game against Colorado, Bruins head coach Chip Kelly has leaned on his star tailback by putting the rock in his hands 25 or more times in the last three contests. The other playmakers to watch for on offense are Greg Dulcich and Kyle Phillips. Dulcich leads the conference in receiving yards (284) and is tied for second in touchdown catches (2).
It's a really small sample size when it comes to analyzing Arizona State's defense. Entering the season, it was no secret that the Sun Devils needed some retooling on that side, and it showed against USC. The Trojans racked up 556 yards of total offense, with Kedon Slovis completing 40 of 55 passes for 381 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. ASU also gave way to 175 yards and two scores on the ground.
When Arizona State Has the Ball
Although Daniels may not have shown it in the season opener with his arm, he is one of college football's top rising talents. Expect the extra time on the practice field to show a more cohesive passing attack against the Bruins. The Sun Devils have plenty of playmakers to support Daniels, starting with running back Rachaad White and receiver Frank Darby, along with true freshmen receivers LV Bunkley-Shelton and Johnny Wilson.
UCLA's defensive front will be in for a long day against ASU. White and fellow back DeaMonte Trayanum are a deadly one-two punch on the ground. Trayanum picked up 84 yards with two scores against USC on just 12 carries while White had 76 yards on the same number of attempts. Add Daniels' team-high 111 yards, and if the Sun Devils run for 250 yards every time out, few teams will be able to stop them.
When the score rises above 10 points, UCLA's defense is in trouble. In the wins against California and Arizona, both teams were stopped at 10 points. The Bruins' defense is young with just three starters returning. Still, the group is holding teams to 355.8 yards per game, particularly excelling against the pass (217.5).
After missing three straight games, the big question is how Arizona State will look once back on the field. With just three games left, is this season a lost cause or one still worth fighting for? With all the talent on the roster, if the Sun Devils come out ready to play they should get a win despite the long layoff.
On the other side of the field, UCLA has momentum and has had time to gel on both sides of the ball. The problem for the Bruins is that they have not been able to get over that hump on the road in 2020. They won't solve that issue in Tempe on Saturday either.
Prediction: Arizona State 31, UCLA 27
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.