Arizona State set for first game in a month, vs. UCLA
Playing for the first time in almost a month due to COVID-19 protocols, Arizona State hosts UCLA Saturday night in a Pac-12 Conference game in Tempe in the Sun Devils’ home opener.
Arizona State (0-1, 0-1 Pac-12) surrendered a two-touchdown lead in the final three minutes at USC on Nov. 7, losing 28-27. It’s the most recent Arizona State game since a variety of positive COVID-19 tests, including coach Herm Edwards.
“When you sit by yourself in a room for 24 hours and you don’t go anywhere — it’s a humbling feeling,” Edwards said on the Nov. 24 episode of his radio show. “It makes you really realize how fortunate we really are, and I just hope people stay away from it because it’s not a lot of fun.”
Arizona State had scheduled dates with Cal, Colorado and Utah canceled due to a multitude of positive tests and contact tracing. However, the Sun Devils returned to practice last week and appear on track for Saturday night’s game against UCLA.
“It feels like we’re just opening the season again,” Edwards said in his Monday press conference. “It’s been a long time, so I think everyone’s excited to have the opportunity to play against a good UCLA football team. I think [Bruins coach] Chip [Kelly] has done a nice job creating the type of offensive and defensive players that fit the mold of what he wants to do.”
While Arizona State has been sidelined, UCLA has enjoyed a modest resurgence. Kelly came on ahead of the 2018 season, returning to the Pac-12 six years removed from an Oregon tenure that produced three conference championships, wins in the Rose and Fiesta Bowls, and a BCS Championship Game appearance.
The Bruins (2-2, 2-2) struggled in Kelly’s first two seasons, going 3-9 and 4-8, respectively, most notably sputtering in the early part of the season. A season-opening loss this year at Colorado seemed to continue that trend, but the Bruins have since scored double-digit wins over Cal and Arizona, and a narrow loss on the road against defending league champion Oregon.
Last week against Arizona, a UCLA defense that has played aggressively held the Wildcats to 10 points. And linebacker Mitchell Agude and defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa have combined for 11.5 tackles for loss for UCLA, which leads the conference in sacks with 12.
“The tackle-for-loss thing is a big thing for this team,” defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight said Monday. “It’s so big, we have competition to see who’s going to make the most. …That’s how we stay on the edge.”
UCLA’s defense must balance its aggression with the multifaceted run-game threat Arizona State poses. The Sun Devils lost standout running back Eno Benjamin in the offseason, but DeaMonte “Chip” Trayanum and Rachaad White were impressive in their Sun Devil debuts with 84 and 76 yards, respectively.
Dual-threat sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels ran for 111 yards at USC, showing more of the explosiveness that complemented his efficient passing touch a season ago.
UCLA’s offense, meanwhile, has found a rushing spark from Demetric Felton. The former wide receiver has flourished at running back, rushing for 537 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Edwards said Felton “has got a chance to maybe be the MVP of the conference.”
–Field Level Media