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UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Preview and Prediction

Jim Mora

Jim Mora

Stranger Things describes:

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A) A popular series on Netflix.

B) A late-night Pac-12 football game.

C) What happens when Arizona State and UCLA meet.

If you answered D) All of the above, congratulations! You win the following preview.

Since head coaches Todd Graham and Jim Mora arrived at Arizona State and UCLA in 2012, their meetings have featured some unusual occurrences. The first meeting went down to a Bruins' field goal. The 2013 encounter saw Arizona State build a big, early lead, only for UCLA to rally but ultimately lose on a penalty-and-sack-laden final drive.

In 2014, Ish Adams scored on a 95-yard interception and the program's first kickoff returned for a touchdown in seven years to power a Bruins' rout. And then in 2015, the Sun Devils gave the Bruins their receipt in the form of a late-game mob touchdown, when Kalen Ballage was pushed into the end zone. 

The 2016 installment of this increasingly bizarre Pac-12 South series promises some stranger things with a late-night kickoff under the Arizona desert sky. 

UCLA at Arizona State

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2 

Spread: UCLA -10 

Three Things to Watch

1. Road Team Advantage

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The visitor has won every matchup in this series since Todd Graham and Jim Mora arrived, with three of the four coming down to the final quarter -- and two of those not being decided until the final possession.

In fact, UCLA has been better away from the Rose Bowl than at it in recent years. All three of the Bruins' losses in 2014 came at home. Half of their conference losses in 2015 came at the Rose Bowl, including against Arizona State. This season, UCLA has yet to play a conference Pac-12 game outside of Pasadena, but Mora's team beat a solid BYU bunch its last time away from home.

2. Josh Rosen vs. ASU's Secondary
Preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Josh Rosen's season-long statistics are decent, if not unimpressive: eight touchdowns with four interceptions, 1,515 yards with a completion percentage hovering around 60. Against Arizona, however, Rosen took his biggest step in a new-look UCLA offense, throwing for three scores without a turnover while racking up a season-high 350 yards.

The Bruin offense under coordinator Kennedy Polamalu remains a work in progress, and that includes Rosen. But after the strong performance against Arizona, and facing the nation's No. 128 passing defense this weekend, the sophomore quarterback could be ready for breakout.

Arizona State's 396.4 passing yards per game yield is partially the result of seeing two pass-happy offenses in Texas Tech and Cal, but also indicative of deeper issues for the Sun Devils' defense.

ASU struggled to defend the pass a season ago, bringing Graham's reliance on heavy and frequent blitzing under scrutiny. Sun Devil defensive backs are often left defending on islands, which can cause trouble. UCLA's Ishmael Adams moved from defensive back to wide receiver this season, and given his past in Tempe, he's one Rosen target to watch Saturday.

3. Quarterback Questions for the Sun Devils
Dual-threat playmaker Manny Wilkins was knocked out of Arizona State's blowout loss at USC, forcing freshman Brady White into the lineup. White led two scoring drives, albeit in garbage time, after the Trojans took their foot off of the accelerator.

Wilkins is doubtful for Saturday's contest, likely leaving White to captain the Sun Devils' offense. He'll have his hands full against an aggressive UCLA front seven, particularly if the blocking issues that left Wilkins vulnerable persist.

USC brought frequent pressure into the backfield, capitalizing on the inexperience of the Arizona State offensive line unlike any Sun Devil opponent yet. UCLA hasn't produced a ton of sacks on the season, but the Bruins can get to the quarterback from a variety of positions. Defensive end Takkarist McKinley has one in each of the Bruins' last three games, linebacker Kenny Young made his first career sack in Week 2, Deon Hollins had one negated by a penalty against Stanford, and tackle Eddie Vanderdoes is a unique threat coming up the middle.

White will have to get the ball out quickly and make use of wide receiver Tim White's explosiveness in space. Short, immediate passes will be Arizona State's best bet to negate the pressure likely coming the quarterback's way.

Final Analysis

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Arizona State's first loss of the season was much uglier than a 21-point deficit to USC suggests. Still, the Sun Devils have lost lopsided games in recent years and recovered nicely – including in 2014, when UCLA last visited Sun Devil Stadium.

Arizona State may not be as strong as its 4-0 start suggested, nor as vulnerable as the 35-point hole it dug against the Trojans. That remains to be seen, as this is very much a young and unknown team.

UCLA has the experience edge in several key areas. The Bruins look about ready to hit their stride, just in time to compete for the Pac-12 South championship. The loser Saturday isn't disqualified from the divisional race, but has a steep hill to climb. Arizona State's likely a year away from really pushing for a South title, while UCLA's ready now.

Prediction: UCLA 42, Arizona State 24

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