UCLA Football: What Brett Hundley Must Do to Improve as a Passer

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UCLA Football: What Brett Hundley Must Do to Improve as a Passer
Victor Calzada/Associated Press

UCLA head coach Jim Mora was unambiguous in his description of quarterback Brett Hundley's game at last month's Pac-12 media days. 

"Brett's a passer first," Mora said. 

An all too easy, if not lazy, trap for analysts to fall into is to call Hundley a running quarterback. Mora's intent was clear. 

"It would be awful if people started to categorize Brett as a running quarterback," he said. "He's not a running quarterback, he's a quarterback who has great running ability."

Last season, situations dictated Hundley break from the pocket perhaps more often than Mora or offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone would have liked.

With 160 carries, Hundley rushed 26 times more than the next-most active Bruins ball-carrier, running back Paul Perkins. Of course, Perkins was not UCLA's feature back, which speaks to a larger issue.

Hundley has the opportunity to prove himself as a premier passer in the coming season. Central in that effort is a more effective deep ball. 

In his redshirt freshman season playing alongside reliable running back Johnathan Franklin, Hundley threw 478 passes and completed 318 for 3,740 yards. His attempts plummeted to 371 in 2013, and his total output to 3,071 yards.  

Brett Hundley Passing Statistics
Season Comp./Att. Yards Yards Per Att. TD/INT Plays of 20+ Yards Plays of 30+ Yards Plays of 40+ Yards
2013 248/371 3,071 8.3 24/9 41 18 7
2012 318/478 3,740 7.8 29/11 48 19 10

CFBStats.com

The Bruins' need for an effective run game is hardly a secret, nor is its impact on Hundley's ability to pass. 

Mora said striking a balance is crucial, but emphasized that it must be the right balance.  

"You'd like balance, but balance doesn't always mean it's 50-50," he said. "For me balance is if you have to throw the ball to win the game, you do, if you have to run it to win, you can run it to win."

The run-game inconsistencies may have had the most notable impact on Hundley's ability to connect on the long ball.

Hundley's average yards per attempt actually improved in 2013, from 7.8 to 8.3, but his accuracy on longer passes fell slightly.

His passing gains of 20, 30 and 40-plus yards all dipped from their 2012 marks in 2013. 

The positive side of that equation was evident in Hundley's last touchdown pass of the season. After establishing the run to the tune of 5.5 yards per carry against Virginia Tech in December's Sun Bowl, Hundley slammed the door on the Hokies with a 59-yard bomb to wide receiver Shaquelle Evans.

That play exemplified Hundley at his finest—a quarterback with a big arm and the awareness to put it to use. As Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times tweeted, Hundley's connection with Evans was a professional-level play.  

But NFL.com analyst and former scout Bucky Brooks writes Hundley must be more consistent with those big-play pass attempts. 

He missed too many downfield shots on fades and go-routes down the boundary a season ago. His balls repeatedly sailed out of bounds on those throws, which prevented the Bruins from cashing in on several home-run opportunities.  

Aside from the Bruins' run-game woes, opponents could also spread their pass coverage more effectively in 2013 without tight end Joseph Fauria clogging the middle. With 46 catches in 2012, Fauria was a primary target for Hundley, and his absence was noticeable last season. 

In his second season, the 6'3", 225-pound Thomas Duarte could be the big, dependable presence Fauria provided on mid- and short-yardage situations.  

That should pack in the defense more to give potential deep threat Devin Lucien room to operate. Teammates Devin Fuller and Jordan Payton are entrenched as the top two targets with Evans gone, but Lucien's role is the potential X-factor in the Bruins' passing attack.

As UCLA fleshes out these roles, it should fulfill Mora's forecast for Hundley

"I can tell you unequivocally Brett Hundley is a first-round draft pick," he said. "The guy is a future star in the NFL. He's got every tangible and intangible quality you can look for."

And with the necessary adjustments, Hundely will have the big-play highlight reel to match those qualities.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com

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