Sun Bowl 2013: 10 Things We Learned from Virginia Tech vs. UCLA
The UCLA Bruins defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies, 42-12, in the 80th annual Sun Bowl on Tuesday.
It was a dominant performance by the Bruins, who pulled away for good early in the fourth quarter.
UCLA's outstanding group of linebackers were the difference. Senior Jordan Zumwalt, in particular, hit everything in sight and knocked Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas out of the game in the second quarter.
Freshman Myles Jack was equally as good and capped off his day with a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown. Jack needs to focus on his defense, as he could be a future first-round NFL draft pick. He's that good.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley stood out as well, running for 161 yards, passing for 223 yards and accounting for four touchdowns.
Here are 10 things we learned from UCLA's victory over Virginia Tech in the 2013 Sun Bowl.
Brett Hundley Is a Terrific Athlete
Brett Hundley is a big kid. At 6'3", 225 pounds, you don't expect him to be able to run away from defenders, but that was what he did on his 86-yard touchdown run.
Hundley had several first-half runs where he not only showed excellent speed, but also an ability to make defenders miss.
The NFL loves athletic quarterbacks, and Hundley fits that prototypical mold of talented passers who can run, too.
Hundley has two years of eligibility remaining, but will he return to UCLA in 2014?
Hundley Should Return to School in 2014
As good as Hundley was against Virginia Tech, his flaws were on display as well.
In the first half, he struggled if he was moved off his spot. When he had a clean pocket, he was often off-target by quite a bit. Hundley did improve as the game wore on, but in the NFL, he will rarely ever have a clean pocket.
Hundley possesses all the traits you want in an NFL quarterback, but he needs to play. If he goes to the NFL next season and is forced to play before he is ready, he will never recover. More than likely, if he does declare for the draft, he will be sitting on some NFL team's bench for the first year or two of his career.
If he comes back to school and gains more experience, he will be even more in demand at this time next year.
Myles Jack Is a Future Star
Freshman linebacker Myles Jack was everywhere against Virginia Tech—particularly in the second half.
He was all over the field in defending the Hokies running game, and just as active against the pass. Jack intercepted Mark Leal in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
For Jack to reach his full potential, he needs to focus on only playing linebacker. Getting hurt while playing offense would be devastating since Jack has the chance to be a superstar.
It will be fun watching him grow next season.
UCLA's Linebackers Are Easily the Best in the Country
Everyone knew about Anthony Barr, who is expected to be a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft, but was largely silent against Virginia Tech.
Instead, it was Myles Jack and Jordan Zumwalt who did all of the damage.
With fellow starter Eric Kendricks out, Zumwalt took his game to another level. His physicality set the tone for the entire defense. His hit om Logan Thomas in the second quarter all but eliminated the Hokies at that moment.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, they will lose both Barr and Zumwalt after this season, as Jack and Kendricks will (presumably) return in 2014.
With such a talented group, it's almost unfathomable that UCLA's defense wasn't even better this season.
Jim Mora Has Found a Home in the College Game
After spending 25 years in the NFL as a coach, including two stints as a head coach, Jim Mora may have finally found his calling in the college game with UCLA.
In two years at Westwood, Calif., Mora has compiled a 19-8 record. He seems to truly enjoy the recruiting aspect of the job, too.
The question surrounding Mora now is whether he will want to stay in college and continue to build the UCLA program. Or will he pull a Pete Carroll and head back to the NFL for a chance at a third head-coaching gig?
Of course, Mora has a long ways to go to be as successful as Carroll, and there has to be an NFL team that would want him.
Mora is off to a great start at UCLA. He should stay and reap the benefits of his hard work and early success.
Logan Thomas' College Career Is over
We knew it was Thomas' last game, but it was how he finished his career that was truly sad.
After an outstanding 25-yard run just three plays earlier, Thomas was hit hard by Zumwalt and knocked out of the game with what were reported as shoulder and neck injuries. He tried to come back into the game, but the Virginia Tech medical staff kept him out.
Thomas broke a lot of records at Virginia Tech, but will never get as much credit as some of the quarterbacks who came before him. Unlike some of the Hokies' previous QBs, Thomas never had a lot of talent around him beyond his sophomore season.
He was often asked to carry the ball 15-20 times per game and never left the field. Instead of bashing Thomas, Virginia Tech fans should thank him for all of the things that he did for the program.
Another Bowl, Another Loss
The Hokies have been to an unprecedented 21 straight bowl games. With their loss to UCLA in the Sun Bowl, Virginia Tech dropped to 9-12 in bowls.
While this latest loss may not feel as bad as some in the past, it does add fuel to the fire that the Hokies cannot win big games.
Yes, this Virginia Tech team suffered a tremendous amount of injuries this season, but it had one of the top-ranked defenses in the country and that unit let them down in a major way on Tuesday.
Until the Hokies can win more than two bowl games in a row, their perception of choking in the clutch will continue to follow them—and rightfully so.
Mark Leal Was OK
Junior backup Mark Leal entered the Sun Bowl unexpectedly when starter Logan Thomas was knocked out.
Leal handled himself about as well as you'd expect him to in the most extensive duty of his college career and with no first-team practice reps.
However, he tried to do too much, and that resulted in an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Leal was constantly under pressure, and when he scrambled, his receivers weren't open.
With Thomas gone next season, Leal will be the most experienced quarterback on the depth chart come spring practice. He is a much different player than Thomas, but with an improvement of talent around him, Leal can be successful.
Bud Foster's Group Let Him Down
Virginia Tech entered the game as the nation's fifth-ranked defense, but UCLA, led by Hundley, annihilated the Hokies defensive front to the tune of 168 rushing yards in the first half alone.
That's right, 168 yards rushing—by the quarterback—in one half of play.
A big part of the problem was defensive coordinator Bud Foster's reliance on blitzing UCLA. Always an aggressive coach, Foster repeatedly went after Hundley, even going with no safety help for much of the game. The strategy did slow down the Bruins' passing game, but Virginia Tech's defensive line couldn't keep contain on Hundley, who would slip free from a tackle and burn the Hokies for several big runs.
Foster is a defensive genius, but on this day, the several talented seniors on his defense let him down. On UCLA's first scoring drive, the Hokies committed three defensive penalties.
If the Hokies had any chance of winning the Sun Bowl, they were going to need a herculean effort from the defense. It didn't happen and the entire team struggled.
Frank Beamer's Future
No, Frank Beamer is not getting fired at Virginia Tech, nor should he.
But discussing his future is something that should happen. Two straight disappointing seasons and another bowl failure, combined with a new school president and athletic director, will lead to more talk about the future of the program.
Beamer built the program and made it a national power, but the Hokies are seemingly stuck in neutral at the moment. Last year's hiring of three new coaches has enhanced recruiting.
Beamer himself said he was "sensitive to staying around too long" earlier this month when discussing the Sun Bowl with reporters.
How much longer will Beamer be the head coach of the Hokies? One thing is for sure, when a new administration gets involved, it doesn't matter who you are, things can change in a hurry.
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