Season opener proves QB Brett Hundley a capable leader under pressure

CHARLOTTESVILE, Va. – Jim Mora could sense it.

“Today, (Brett Hundley) was a different guy,” he said.

Through the first three quarters against Virginia, UCLA’s offense, led by Hundley, looked as if it had skid far off the tracks. By game’s end, it had mustered seven points – 14 less than its defensive counterpart.

In the past, this would be when Hundley may have tightened up a little, his composure showing cracks in the hardware.

On Saturday, in UCLA’s 28-20 win over Virginia, it appeared to be slippery smooth.

“His demeanor on the field and on the sidelines today was so much different than in any other game where we have struggled,” Mora, UCLA’s head coach, said. “I think he’s matured. I think he has a lot of confidence in himself … (and) I think he’s developed into a very good leader.”

For most of the game, Hundley battled the pass pressure, dropping back to pass only to find several Virginia defenders rushing at him time after time. The result often left the Bruins in many third-and-longs throughout the game.

To add on, there were multiple false starts. The offensive line seemed to have been shot out of a cannon off the tracks.

Hundley didn’t get much help from his receivers either. They dropped many catchable passes.

Yet the redshirt junior quarterback remained composed. As Mora put it, Hundley never seemed uncomfortable.

“I think he understands that there’s going to be plays where guys maybe drop the ball, or they miss their block. You know, he’s not going to be perfect either,” Mora said.

“While he holds everyone around him to a high standard, he has enough confidence in himself and the players around him to cut them a little bit of slack sometimes.”

The game wore on, and UCLA’s offense continued to leave skid marks on the Scott Stadium surface. A breaking point – or rather breakthrough – came with 1:02 left in the third quarter.

On a designed quarterback rush for third-and-goal, Hundley ran up a gaping hole in the middle but was caught – but not brought down – by Virginia’s freshman safety Quin Blanding at the 3-yard line. Keeping his legs churning with Blanding trying to wrestle him to the ground, Hundley spun around and fell, simultaneously reaching the ball across the goal line. Touchdown.

It took all of 43 minutes and 58 seconds of game time but UCLA’s offense, behind Hundley, had its first points of the game.

“It just shows that we have the resolve as an offense to do it,” he said. “ We just can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”

In a game where UCLA’s offense shot itself in the foot enough times to warrant an amputation, there was at least one bright spot to point to.

“He has that really narrow, narrow window of being hard and tense and still poised,” Mora said. “And I think he’s kind of found his sweet spot now.”

More Perk?

Though UCLA struggled rushing the ball in the first half – 23 yards on 14 carries – the second half proved to be more prosperous.

On a few particular runs, redshirt sophomore Paul Perkins eluded many defenders to break them open in space. He finished with 80 yards on 16 carries.

Redshirt senior Jordon James meanwhile had just three yards on five carries.

So could Perkins even start ahead of James going forward?

“I think you’ll see a split still between Paul and Jordon,” Mora said.

“I don’t know if Jordon got a lot of opportunities early. Paul, you know, he took advantage of the opportunities he got.”

Second time’s the charm

Late in the first quarter, junior cornerback Ishmael Adams returned a punt 85 yards for the touchdown. Except only he didn’t.

Sophomore cornerback Priest Willis was called for a personal foul because his helmet came off during the play, and then he put it back on and continued to play.

Later in the game, with 13:35 left in the second quarter, Adams got his touchdown back. Off a Virginia pass tipped by redshirt senior defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Adams intercepted the ball and returned it 20 yards for his first career touchdown.

“It’s great, it’s always feeling good to get back into the end zone,” he said. “They took my first one away so the second one’s even better.”

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