UCLA Offensive Line Must Improve If Brett Hundley Wants to Win Heisman

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UCLA Offensive Line Must Improve If Brett Hundley Wants to Win Heisman
USA Today

Forty-three minutes, 58 seconds: That's how far into its 28-20 win over Virginia No. 7 UCLA went before scoring its first—and only—offensive touchdown.  

Quarterback Brett Hundley powered his way into the end zone on a six-yard rush with 1:02 remaining in the third quarter. His lone score proved to be the difference in a sloppy outing that threatened to end UCLA's College Football Playoff and Hundley's Heisman aspirations before they began. 

UCLA can mark off a win on its docket, as head coach Jim Mora remarked in his postgame press conference, per ESPN.com's David Hale:

Still, there is ample cause for concern coming out of the Bruins' offensively anemic showing, and plenty of fodder for Mora to drill in next week's practices.  

Perhaps some of UCLA's sluggish start can be credited to an eight-month layoff and the eagerness inherent with an offseason of expectations.  

However, the issues vexing the Bruins in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday were the same problems UCLA experienced in losses at Stanford and Oregon a season ago: offensive line play and penalties. 

At Virginia, UCLA was without center Jake Brendel, which moved sophomore Scott Quessenberry into the starting spot. The Bruins were also without tackle Simon Goines. Still, Saturday's problems were not unique to this one game. 

Hundley was under almost constant duress, a glaring issue each of the last two seasons when UCLA ranked near the bottom of the nation for sacks allowed. 

Chris Kalra of The Daily Bruin tweeted that left tackle Malcolm Bunche recognized the offensive line's collective effort Saturday was lacking:

That was evident in the five sacks UCLA surrendered. The line's struggles also manifested in a pedestrian 116 yards rushing, with the Bruins averaging just three yards per carry.  

The Bruins were also routinely playing behind the chains due to penalties. Last season, they were the most penalized team in the Pac-12. They're not off to a great start in that category this season, racking up 12 penalties for 87 yards. 

ANDREW SHURTLEFF/Associated Press

All that yellow laundry meant UCLA was often facing 3rd-and-double digits, vastly limiting the play-calling options for offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone—and by extension, hindering Hundley's opportunities. 

If UCLA's redshirt junior quarterback is to compete for the Heisman—and the Bruins for a Pac-12 and national championship—he'll need considerably more support in the next 11 games. 

Hundley's final stat line against Virginia was solid enough: a rushing touchdown and 39 yards on the ground; 20-of-33 passing for 242 yards with no interceptions.

Yet, passes thrown by Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert were responsible for two more Bruins touchdowns than Hundley threw. 

Three defensive touchdowns, all scored in the second quarter, widened the UCLA offense's margin for error considerably. The Bruins got interception returns of 20 yards from cornerback Ishmael Adams and 37 yards from linebacker Eric Kendricks, as well as a 75-yard fumble return from Randall Goforth. 

Beyond its three touchdowns, the Bruins defense played inspired football.

Last month at Pac-12 media days, Kendricks said he was 100 percent recovered from ankle surgery that cut his 2013 season short. He proved it Saturday with a forced fumble and game-high 16 tackles.   

UCLA also got strong individual performances from defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa and linebacker Deon Hollins. Both effectively pressured Virginia quarterbacks Lambert and Matt Johns. 

There were bright spots on offense, as well. Wide receiver Jordan Payton established himself as Hundley's go-to-guy, a role that needed filling with senior Shaquelle Evans' departure to the NFL.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Payton made eight receptions for 98 yards—none bigger than his leaping grab on third down late in the fourth quarter. The first down Payton converted preserved UCLA's win. 

Running back Paul Perkins went for 80 yards rushing on 16 carries. He also had two drive-saving plays: One was a block while picking up a blitz, which allowed Hundley to connect for a first-down pass. The other came when he covered a fumble deep in UCLA territory that, had Virginia recovered, would have set up the Cavaliers for a potential game-tying score. 

To truly flourish individually, Hundley needs those supporting cast members to shine, say nothing of the Bruins' team goals. And for that to happen, UCLA needs vastly improved play on the offensive line. 

Otherwise, dreams of a Heisman and championships will be just that. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Game statistics compiled via VirginiaSports.com. Season statistics compiled via CFBstats.com

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