The Arizona State Sun Devils opened the 2016 season a perfect 4-0 for the first time since 2007... but last week, the Devils were blown out at USC and lost starting quarterback Manny Wilkins to a leg injury.
Wilkins won't play Saturday night when ASU (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) returns home to face UCLA (3-2, 1-1), which is coming off a rout of Arizona. Can the Sun Devils get back on track in front of their home crowd?
Here are three questions and a prediction for ASU vs. UCLA, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
1. Is Brady White ready?
With Wilkins ruled out Saturday, the Devils will turn to redshirt freshman quarterback Brady White, the nation’s No. 65 overall recruit and No. 6 quarterback from the Class of 2015 according to Rivals.com.
White played the entire second half in relief of Wilkins on Saturday at USC, but the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder will make his first collegiate start against a UCLA defense that is the second-best in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. Bruins opponents are completing just 48.3 percent of their passes this season, and a lot of that has to do with this guy.
UCLA's Takkarist McKinley has generated 20 QB pressures on 84 pass rush snaps, giving him the Pac 12's top pass rush productivity so far. pic.twitter.com/t8usqM4LOF
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 6, 2016
So yeah, White will be thrown right into the fire Saturday. Will he be able to withstand the pressure?
I asked Brady White what he's learned from Manny Wilkins and how he'll put that knowledge to good use if he's called upon Saturday vs. UCLA: pic.twitter.com/6sd2oqRakB
— Shane Dale (@ShaneDaleABC15) October 4, 2016
2. Will the Devils be ready for Rosen?
ASU kept UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen in check during their meeting in Pasadena last season, limiting him to his second-worst QBR of his freshman season in the Devils’ 38-23 upset victory.
But after a shaky season opener against Texas A&M, Rosen, who was the No. 1 rated QB from that 2015 class, has been sharp for the Bruins. In his last four games, the 6-foot-4, 218-pounder has thrown seven touchdown passes and just one interception while averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game.
ASU will have to get pressure on Rosen in order to keep him from torching the Sun Devils’ mediocre secondary. ASU is averaging just two sacks per game, while UCLA is allowing two per game. The Devils will probably need to do better than that Saturday.
3. Who wins the turnover battle?
Duh. This is always a crucial question. But the reason it’s especially interesting heading into this game is because UCLA and ASU are two of the conference’s worst teams in giveaway-takeaway ratio. The Sun Devils have a minus-2 turnover margin this season, tied for the worst in the Pac-12, while UCLA is just plus-1.
ASU has only forced five turnovers through five games, though two of those came late in the Devils’ come-from-behind home win over Cal two weeks ago. Will the Devils pick up where they left off, or will they come up empty like they did last week at USC?
ASU comes into Saturday’s game with the better record, but the Bruins are just a couple plays away from being 5-0. They lost an overtime heartbreaker at Texas A&M in Week 1 and squandered a late home lead against Stanford three weeks later.
The road team has won all four games in this rivalry since Todd Graham took over as ASU’s head coach in 2012. Look for the Bruins to extend that streak to five behind superior quarterback play and a defensive unit that will make life difficult for Brady White in his first NCAA start.
UCLA 35, ASU 20