UCLA Football Hopes to Fend Off Underdog Arizona State in Tempe

The Bruins have a chance to notch their second road win of the season against a Sun Devil team with an interim coach.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been around the block a few times, giving him his fair share of experience against the Sun Devils.

The Bruins’ super senior quarterback has completed over 65% of his passes each of the three times he’s faced off against them, and he’ll get another chance to pick apart their secondary in Tempe this weekend.

“I’ve played them for – this is going on my fifth year now, so I’m pretty familiar with a lot of the guys on their team, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I think we got our work cut out for us, for sure.”

No. 12 UCLA football (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) will face Arizona State (3-5, 2-3 Pac-12) in the desert Saturday night, needing a win to remain in the hunt for the Pac-12 title and a College Football Playoff spot. To get to this point, the Bruins have played six of their eight games at home, and their only road win was against a lowly Colorado team on the verge of firing their head coach.

Arizona State, meanwhile, has already fired their head coach, giving Herm Edwards the boot back in Week 3. Edwards joined the Sun Devils the same offseason Chip Kelly arrived in Westwood, with the two former NFL coaches splitting their four Pac-12 showdowns.

With Edwards out, former running backs coach Shaun Aguano has taken over the program for the time being. Aguano was a high school coach for nearly 20 years before joining Edwards’ staff in 2019, and he started his tenure as interim head coach with crushing losses to Utah and USC.

The Sun Devils enter Saturday having won two out of three under Aguano, though, thanks in large part to a change at quarterback.

Trenton Bourguet came in for veteran Florida transfer Emory Jones against Washington after the starter got injured, tossing three touchdowns to lead Arizona State to a shootout victory at home. Jones took back over and lost to Stanford a week later, only for Bourguet to get the start at Colorado and pick up another win.

Bourguet threw for 435 yards and three touchdowns against the Buffaloes, and Kelly was more than complimentary in his analysis of the Sun Devils’ new starter.

“I’ll tell you what, he’s impressive to watch on film,” Kelly said. “You try to blitz him and the ball’s out before you can get to him. He’s got a real good understanding of what they’re trying to do offensively. He throws a really, really accurate ball, but I think his best strength is his decision-making.”

With a passer rating of 179.1 in his limited time on the field, Bourguet would be the Pac-12’s leader in the stat if he were to qualify. Thompson-Robinson held that top spot through the first half of conference play, but is coming off his two worst statistical performances of the year against Oregon and Stanford.

Still, Thompson-Robinson has a chance to improve to 3-1 in his career against Arizona State, which boasts one of the more middling statistical defenses in the Pac-12. Running back Zach Charbonnet, meanwhile, had one of his least efficient games as a Bruin against the Sun Devils last year, going for 89 yards on 4.2 yards per carry without a touchdown.

Thompson-Robinson and Charbonnet have been putting up big numbers as of late, though, breaking tackles and racking up points along the way, and UCLA’s star quarterback said he hopes that can continue.

“I’m having a blast, I would hope that’s being shown on the field and through my smile,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I only have so long left here, and so I’m just taking every day by what it is and just loving on my teammates and the people here because they care about me so much.”

The Bruins and Sun Devils have four common opponents at this point in the season, with the blue and gold besting the same Utah and Stanford teams that Arizona State was unable to beat. Both sides defeated Washington and Colorado, but Arizona State did so with seven-point and eight-point margins of victory while UCLA was up three scores on both squads before garbage time hit.

Dating back to Week 7 of the 2019 season, the Bruins have won 16 games in a row against teams that finished .500 or worse. If the Sun Devils lose Saturday, they’ll fall into that category as well.

UCLA and Arizona State are scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium. The showdown will be televised on FS1.

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