It’s Homecoming weekend in Tempe, not only for past students of Arizona State University but also for UCLA redshirt freshman signal-caller Brett Hundley, who was born in Arizona. The Chandler High School product returns to the Valley of the Sun fresh off a 21-14 victory against Utah. Hundley has had his ups and downs this season with a four-touchdown game against Nebraska to a four-interception game against Cal a couple of weeks ago.
If the Sun Devils hope to avoid a late season implosion like last year, they need to focus on a good 5-2 UCLA team, and these are the players that I think need to step up to secure the victory and the elusive Pac-12 South crown.
No. 7 Jaxon Hood
True freshman defensive tackle Jaxon Hood has shown flashes of brilliance this year, and that has defensive coordinator Paul Randolph excited. So much is riding on his 295 lb. shoulders since ASU’s do-it-all defender Will Sutton is still questionable for this week’s matchup. Facing the Pac-12’s leading rusher in Johnathan Franklin, Hood and the rest of the defensive line will need to stop the run and avoid another debacle like last week.
No. 6 Evan Finkenberg
Left tackle Evan Finkenberg will be facing a tough opponent in outside linebacker Anthony Barr who is a monster sack machine. Finkenberg will be essential in providing protection for quarterback Taylor Kelly as well as establishing the running game. It’s no question that the entire O-line needs to be on point, but Finkenberg needs to keep Kelly safe.
No. 5 Brandon Magee
After sitting out last year with a ruptured Achilles tendon, linebacker Brandon Magee is back this year with something to prove in his senior year. The two-sport athlete was signed by the Boston Red Sox, but he has been giving his all to Graham and the football team. Magee needs to put his money where his mouth is and be the leader for this defensive squad.
No. 4 Alden Darby
Behold the legacy of Arizona State’s legendary linebacker Pat Tillman. Head coach Todd Graham unveiled the camouflage jersey this week, and safety Alden Darby earned the privilege of wearing said jersey in practice. Darby is well-deserving of this honor, and he needs to show his coach, team and all the members of Sun Devil Nation by continuing to be a leader on and off the field, emulating Pat Tillman.
No. 3 Chris Coyle
Arizona State has produced several tight ends that are currently playing in the NFL, so the onus is on current tight end Chris Coyle to continue in that commitment to excellence. UCLA has a veteran secondary with incredible cornerbacks that will be covering ASU receivers like glue. This should open up things for Coyle, so I feel that an epic game is on the horizon for the 6-3, 230-lb. letterman.
No. 2 Taylor Kelly
Coming off an abysmal game against Oregon where he completed only 10 passes for 93 yards, it is imperative that quarterback Taylor Kelly bounce back and show the resiliency that is required of a Division I quarterback. With a 67 percent completion rate and 168 QB Rating, Kelly has proven that he deserves to be the starting field general for Graham and the Devils. His 15 touchdowns and four interceptions is a good ratio, but he will need to improve on it to win this key Pac-12 matchup.
No. 1 Jon Mora
Walk-on place-kicker Jon Mora has taken the kicking job away from Alex Garoutte. This isn’t the first time this season that Mora has been tabbed over Garoutte. After Garoutte’s dismal 1-for-4 performance against Cal, Mora was the kicker against Colorado and made his only attempt for 38 yards. Garoutte regained the starting job for the Oregon game and missed a 43-yarder. With this game lining up to be quite a close one, it goes without saying that every point will be needed, and Coach Graham has to feel confident in his kicker.
If the aforementioned players step up tomorrow, there should be no reason why the Devils will not only win this game but also the Pac-12 South crown.