November 9, 2007

UCLA Preview

A week after its first loss of the season, Arizona State (8-1 overall; 5-1 in Pac-10) travels to play an impossible to figure UCLA (5-4; 4-2) squad at 12:30 p.m. PST on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have been racked by injury woes that have knocked out their top two quarterback and several other key starters.

After winning their first two games of the season, Karl Dorrell's Bruins were dismantled at Utah, 44-6, before bouncing back with wins over Washington and Oregon State, the later of which was an impressive 44-14 showing on the road.

The following week, however, the season began to unravel, with quarterback Ben Olson suffering a knee injury in a 20-6 loss to lowly Notre Dame, which, at 1-8, is headed for its worst season ever.

With Olson on the mend, UCLA hosted Cal after its bye week, and prevailed 30-21 behind the game management of backup Patrick Cowan, who had been unavailable versus the Fighting Irish due to his own injury.

But the Bruins weren't able to maintain their unblemished Pac-10 record the following week, losing 27-7 at Washington State.

Then, last week, they lost 34-27 at Arizona, in a game that saw Cowan suffer a concussion and collapsed lung.

It was the first time this season UCLA had suffered back-to-back losses, and it has now been defeated in three of its last four games.

Osaar Rasshan, who had been playing wide receiver and is essentially a fourth-string quarterback, took over for Cowan after the injury. An excellent athlete, Rasshan has the ability to make plays with his feet, and he rushed for 57 yards on eight carries against the Wildcats after coming in to replace Cowan. But he's not a particularly accurate passer, and he's not dealt with a defense as successful as ASU's.

Rasshan will now get his first career start, but it's a tough time for it, against arguably the best defense in the Pac-10, in ASU. Additionally, ASU just faced one of the most challenging dual-thread quarterbacks in the country, last weekend versus Dennis Dixon and Oregon.

And that was a system designed to take advantage of such a quarterback. With UCLA, that isn't the case.

Making matters more difficult, the Bruins will also be playing without leading rusher Kahlil Bell, lost for the season several weeks ago due to a knee injury, as well as receiver Marcus Everett and defensive tackle Brigham Harwell.

Technically, UCLA still controls its own destiny and would represent the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl if it were able to win its final three games, against ASU, Oregon and USC, in order.

The reality, however, is that the Bruins are reeling.

Against an ASU defense that ranks 21st in the country, including 12th in scoring, 16th against the run and 13th in pass efficiency, this is not the best week to be breaking in a new starting quarterback.

Considering UCLA is averaging just 25.8 points per game and is 8th in the conference in total offense, with just 370 yards per game, it would appear this is a great matchup for the Sun Devils.

Rasshan won't be the only deep reserve skill player whom the Bruins will be forced to rely on. UCLA will also be using reserve Chane Moline primarily at running back, with Bell and Christian Ramirez out, and Chris Markey doubtful for the game.

If the Bruins are going to have any chance at staying in the game, they will likely have to keep the game a low scoring affair. To that end, look for the home team to put a major emphasis on attacking ASU's weakest spot, its pass protection.

Bruin defensive end Bruce Davis is one of the top sack artists in the Pac-10, but it will take a yeoman's effort from him and his mates in the defensive front seven for UCLA to be able to limit ASU's offense enough to win a low scoring game.

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