UCLA experienced its first 0-1 week of the season last week and now are in a dogfight for a big time bowl game. They need to right the ship and go 1-0 this week. They play Arizona State University at the Rose Bowl Saturday in arguably the biggest game the Bruins have played in several years.
The Sun Devils are a very good team and at one point this year they were a top ten team. They lost their quarterback and had a host of other injuries that really hurt their season. Now they are getting healthy and getting back to the kind of football all the pundits thought they would be playing.
Can UCLA bounce back from its first loss against a team as good as Arizona State? Bruin fans have enjoyed seeing this team come from behind time and again, but now UCLA plays a team they must get off to a good start against.
Arizona State presents several problems for the Bruins. They bring a very good offense led by a quarterback that verbally committed to UCLA but backed off and went to Arizona State when admissions in to UCLA became an issue.
Rudy Carpenter is a red-shirt freshman that stands in at six-foot-two 200-pounds. He has a rifle for an arm and is a very mobile quarterback. Before coming to Arizona State he was named the Los Angeles Daily News Offensive Player of the Year and was a pre- and postseason All-America selection by Rivals.com
Sam Keller was the starter until he got injured in the Stanford loss. Since that time Carpenter has fashioned a very good record and has led his team to victories in its last two games.
On the season Carpenter has completed 88-119 passes for 1,226 yards with ten touchdowns against only two interceptions. His 401 yards passing against Washington is the second most yards ever thrown for by a freshman at Arizona State.
Carpenter's favorite target and one of the most valuable players in the Pac-10 is All-American senior Derek Hagan. Hagan is a six-foot-two 200-pound wide receiver. He is big strong and fast. He runs great patterns and his hands are very soft. This season Hagan has 61 catches for 969 yards and seven touchdowns. He averages 107.7 yards receiving per game and 15.9 yards per catch.
The tight end is a very important part of the Sun Devils offense and they have one of the best. Sophomore Zach Miller checks in at six-foot-five 262-pounds. The recruiting war for him was intense and he landed at Arizona State. He has not disappointed because on the season he has caught 31 passes for 358 yards. He averages 11.5 yards per catch and has three touchdowns so far this season.
The Sun Devils have another very good target that they throw to. Red-shirt sophomore Rudy Burgess is five-foot-eleven 180-pounds and very fast. He has done a bit of everything for the Sun Devils including returning punts and kicks, playing at the running back position and playing wide receiver.
Burgess has played mostly wide receiver this year and has caught forty-three passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns. He average 10.3 yards per catch and 49.2 yards per game. Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter says Burgess is the most versatile player on this team.
This Arizona State team is not just a passing team. True freshman Keegan Herring is five-foot-ten 179-pounds of greased lightening. He has all the moves and is deceptively strong. So far this season this true freshman has rushed for 642 net yards on 105 carries. He averages 6.1 yards per carry and averages 71.3 yards per game. He has scored five touchdowns so far this season.
The Sun Devils offensive line has taken its share of hits this year. The Sun Devils have been forced to start nine different players on its offensive line this year due to injuries. It has been so bad that only one offensive lineman that started the season is still starting. Senior Chaz White at six-foot-five 341-pounds anchors the left tackle and is their most experienced lineman.
Across the front line the Sun Devils still have a lot of size and strength. They average six-feet-five 301-pounds, and even though they are playing younger, less experienced players, they have size and speed that can't be taught.
While the offense has had its share of injuries and has had trouble controlling the ball the defense has been the most solid part of the team.
One place UCLA does not want to go is Mr. Robinson's neighborhood. Senior linebacker Dale Robinson, six-foot-one 232-pounds, has picked up where he left off last year.
Robinson is second in the Pac-10 with 88 tackles, 54 solos that leads the Pac-10. He is also tied for second in the Pac-10 with thirteen tackles for a loss and has had four games this season with at least ten tackles. He is one of the hardest hitting linebackers in the nation and he must be accounted for at all times.
Another player who stands out on defense is junior college transfer Zach Cantanese. At six-foot-two 226-pounds he is a formidable safety. On the season he has accounted for 78 tackles with 45 of them being solo tackles. He has one interception, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss.
Another player the Bruins must keep in check is weak-side-linebacker Jamar Williams. Williams is another big kid in the defensive backfield for the Sun Devils. At six-foot-one 236-pounds he can really put a hurting on the opposition. So far this year Williams is the third leading tackler with 53 (36 solo) and two interceptions.
One huge advantage the Sun Devils have over most teams they play is size in the defensive backfield. Only one player is less than six feet tall. They pose problems for all the bigger receivers in the Pac-10 because they can match up really well.
UCLA spent the first eight games trying to get the respect of the voters and the BCS. They lost some ground last week but can gain some of it back with a win. The voters want to know if the loss was a bump in the road or a sign of a bubble about to burst.
Koetter had this to say about playing the Bruins. "We are excited about the UCLA game. We know what's on the line. Our guys are looking forward to this game. We have many guys from Southern California. UCLA is a good team and has won a lot of games that could have gone either way. Right now we are concerned about our health status, but we are planning on having our players back including, Quincy Darley, Jamaal Lewis and Moey Mutz. We also could have outland trophy candidate Grayling Love and Stephen Berg back, but we will see how the week goes."
Coach Karl Dorrell had this to say about playing Arizona State. "We've bounced back many times this season. We've been down for the count a lot of times in the fourth quarter and have been able to come back. This team's not going to quit, I can tell you that right now."
Can UCLA go 1-0 this week?
This is without a doubt the biggest challenge this team has seen this season. Bouncing back with a victory would be huge, but does a loss ruin the season? Any team that is 8-1 at this point of the season cannot be thought of as anything but a winners and this group of UCLA Bruins are winners.