UCLA Football Preview: Bruins Will Need to Stop ASU QB Jayden Daniels
After multiple positive COVID-19 tests, the Sun Devils will finally take the field for the second time this season.
The UCLA Bruins are traveling to Tempe, Arizona this Saturday for a meeting with the Arizona State Sun Devils and the circumstances could not be more 2020. UCLA has a .500 record in November for the first time since head coach Chip Kelly took over, and the Sun Devils are entering this game with only one other contest under their belt, which they narrowly lost to Southern Cal earlier this month. They’ve had to cancel their last three games due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests including one from head coach Herm Edwards. So, the college football world has not seen much from ASU thus far.
Sophomore Jayden Daniels will be making his second start this season after going 11 of 23 for 134 yards and one touchdown on November 7 against Southern Cal. He was on the Davey O’Brien and Manning Award Watch Lists prior to the start of this season and he received an honorable mention for the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year in 2019.
Something that UCLA will need to look out for is accuracy. While 11 of 23 isn’t spectacular, he has not thrown an interception in 177 consecutive pass attempts. He is strong on third downs and, with UCLA’s history of giving up third-and-long plays, this could end up being a problem for the Bruins.
The Sun Devils are rebuilding their offensive line after losing starting center Cohl Cabral, tackle and guard Roy Hemsley, starting right tackle Steven Miller, and starting left guard Alex Losoya. They return only two scholarship players to this unit. So, ASU found a couple of gems in the transfer portal.
ASU’s starters on offensive line feature two grad transfers in left tackle Kellen Dietsch from Texas A&M and right guard Henry Hattis from Stanford. Sixth-year center Cade Cote is one of the two returning scholarship players returning this year. Cote broke his foot last year and missed the final three games of the season, but he has returned strong and has no lingering issues.
Younger players take the remaining spots, with sophomore Dohnovan West at left guard, and redshirt freshman Ben Scott at the right tackle. With only one game worth of data and all of the uncertainty going into this year, it is hard to say what this group is going to look like on gameday. However, one thing is for certain, this line is definitely in rebuild mode and protecting a young quarterback could put a strain on the offense.
Arizona State has two solid starters, although the top rusher on the team thus far has been Daniels. Freshman Chip Trayanum and junior Rachaad White each had 12 carries in their first game and they combined for about 150 yards on the ground. Add that to Daniels’ 124 yards and, even with a shaky offensive line, the Sun Devils were able to hang 291 rushing yards on the Trojans. The run game is definitely what helped them keep pace with Southern Cal. So, the Bruin defensive front is going to have to be ready.
This is a bit of an unknown, which is an odd thing in November. Since Daniels didn’t throw a whole lot in game one, we’ll take a look at his options. There are actually 19 receivers listed on the ASU roster, a majority of which are underclassmen.
While White is a solid option for the ground, he also added three receptions for a total of 70 yards, one of which was a 55-yard deep ball. The defensive line is going to have to contain him on the hand off and also not let him get free in space. He caught one of the two receiving touchdowns the Sun Devils scored in game one, the other getting pulled in by redshirt senior Frank Darby. Darby has the experience and capability of a starter. So, don’t let his one reception for two yards in game one fool you. If the Bruins sleep on Darby, that could be a problem. Last year, he was second on the team with 616 yards and saw action in all 13 games of the season.
Additionally, sophomore Ricky Pearsall, freshman LV Bunkley-Shelton, and redshirt sophomore Geordan Porter all logged stats against Southern Cal and are expected to start this weekend. Tight ends Case Hatch and Curtis Hodges will also start and be options for Daniels as well.
With this only being Arizona State’s second game, but also taking into consideration what UCLA has been able to put together the last two weeks, there is no doubt that this is a winnable game. At this point, the Sun Devils are favored by less than a touchdown, which is basically the advantage of playing at home. Another factor will be who UCLA chooses to start at quarterback. Clearly, there has been a good thing going with freshman Chase Griffin, who seems to have that quarterback touch that Dorian Thompson-Robinson just has not picked up.
The coaching question always hangs in the air with UCLA—will the coaches lose this one with bad decisions late in the game? Will Herm Edwards pull off a victory mirroring their 2019 success? Last year, UCLA was able to pull off the win by two scores last year. Hopefully, that will happen again this year.