Head coach Jim Mora routinely downplayed growing hype for UCLA sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley. Mora emphasized that Hundley still had much to learn in Pac-12 teleconference calls earlier this season.
It was easy to forget through his torrid start to 2013 that Hundley is still just a sophomore, but the veteran defense of Stanford offered up a reminder on Saturday.
With leading rusher Jordon James out of the lineup, Hundley rushed for a team-high 11 carries and 27 yards. Thirty of came on one play.
Obviously, not all of his carries were designed rushes.
Cardinal pass rushers’ exploitation of a young Bruins offensive line had Hundley scrambling often. He was sacked four times and hurried nine more.
“Stanford did a really good job…not even blitzing per se, but using their front four defensive line,” Hundley told reporters after Saturday’s loss, via the Orange County Register. “I can always help out the [offensive] line and do better…just getting the ball out of my hand.”
He has his first opportunity to really apply lessons from this season to a high-pressure situation when this week, Hundley leads the Bruins into Autzen Stadium against second-ranked Oregon.
A quicker release than he demonstrated against Stanford is necessary, as the Ducks promise to bring another heavy dose of pass-rush Hundley’s way.
Oregon has 20 sacks on the season, 14th most among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti dials up pressure from a variety of sources, using zone blitzes to disrupt the opponent.
UCLA must counter Oregon’s defensive speed with its own offensive speed, emphasizing more of a nickel-and-dime approach than chasing the big play.
“This offense is built to stay on track, get your yards: Three, four yards or five, then you’ll bust [a big play] here or there,” Hundley said.
The Bruins’ sole touchdown drive last Saturday demonstrated just that.
Hundley led UCLA downfield on 11 plays, attacking the aggressive Cardinal defense with several gains of seven and six yards, which then set up the Bruins for gains of 16 and 14.
Those pickups ultimately positioned UCLA for a scoring play on which Hundley demonstrated what he can do when reacting both quickly and patiently moving from the pocket.
With Stanford bringing six rushers, Hundley rolled left and drew in four Cardinal. That opened a seam for wide receiver Shaquelle Evans, who Hundley found through the traffic.
That play was a prime example of Hundley working with confidence and patience. When he was intercepted looking for Evans on a deep ball earlier in the second half, impatience got the better of the young quarterback.
Pursuing a game-changer in one throw had the opposite intended effect. Hundley telegraphs before throwing into coverage.
Contrast that with a similar play-call that went for six points against Nebraska. He sells a play-action fake and quickly releases to Evans, who beat his defender with no safety deep, as Stanford’s Jordan Richards was on the interception.
The play-fake helps Hundley in the touchdown against Nebraska, and that was certainly an element absent from UCLA’s offense Saturday.
Torian White’s absence also complicates how the Bruins deal with tenacious pressure, but Hundley can aid the offensive line’s efforts with more decisive reaction as plays develop.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.