Spring Game Shows UCLA Will Need Heisman Season from Brett Hundley in 2014

Kyle KensingContributor IApril 26, 2014

USA Today

He played just one drive in UCLA's spring game on Saturday, but redshirt junior quarterback Brett Hundley confirmed that as he goes, so, too, go the Bruins. 

Hundley was explosive and at times downright unstoppable in his first two seasons guiding the Bruins offense, but he also suffered through stretches of indecisiveness. He put off entering the NFL draft for at least another year to refine his game, including how he reads defenses. 

To that end, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone turned over play-calling duties to Hundley after the quarterback was pulled from Saturday's spring game.

Hundley also returned, as he told Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times, to pursue history for the UCLA football program.

"I was not going to leave something that we worked so hard to build," he said.

The quarterback had an opportunity to apply lessons learned since the 2013 season ended, which Mazzone said on the spring game's Pac-12 Network broadcast were gained through extended film sessions with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. 

Combining new perspective with the pure talent that has Hundley considered a 2014 Heisman contender is crucial to the Bruins' championship aspirations. 

When Hundley was playing confidently and clicking in 2013, UCLA's offense was among the most prolific in the Pac-12. The Bruins' performance in season-ending routs of rival USC and Sun Bowl opponent Virginia Tech was both Hundley and UCLA at their best, as they blitzed two solid defenses for 35 and 42 points, respectively. 

In losses at Stanford and Oregon, Hundley was under duress from aggressive pass rush and played tentatively.

On Saturday, Hundley looked like the Hundley who finished 2013 strong. It was only one drive, but he spread the ball among his talented receiving corps and nearly hit running back Jordon James for a touchdown. 

When Hundley was off the field, UCLA saw a preview of its offense without its veteran quarterback under center. It wasn't especially pretty, as NFL.com's Dan Greenspan noted on Twitter:

Hundley was the centerpiece of the Bruins offense in 2013—more so than many other quarterbacks. His dual-threat ability buoyed a running game that weathered a storm of injuries and the loss of an All-American running back in Johnathan Franklin. 

Hundley's 748 yards on the ground were a team best last season. And while the no-contact rule of Saturday's spring game prevented Hundley from rushing the ball, UCLA is still seeking a clear-cut No. 1 ball-carrier to fill the role Franklin so expertly handled in 2012. 

As Mazzone finds a feature back among the ranks of James, Paul Perkins, Craig Lee and Steven Manfro, Hundley will remain a cornerstone of the running game. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  Quarterback Brett Hundley #17 of the UCLA Bruins carries on a 12 yard touchdown run in the third quarter against the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Coliseum on November 30, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  The Bruins won 35-14
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

But with a receiving corps that features as many playmakers as UCLA's—receivers like spring-game standouts Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien—Hundley's improving pocket presence is too valuable to limit him in the passing game. 

Hundley threw 107 fewer passes in one less game in 2013 than in 2012. He should be closer to his redshirt-freshman-year total of 478 attempts in the coming campaign. 

All told, Hundley will have plenty of opportunities to put up monster numbers. For the Bruins to win a Pac-12 championship and contend for a national title, they will need him to do so. 


Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com