The biggest adjustment UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley had to make was the fast tempo with which coach Jim Mora wanted him to direct in the new spread offense.
Hundley’s gradually shown improvement over the course of five games, but it was last week’s performance at Colorado that really proved the redshirt freshman’s more than got what it takes to thrive in this offense.
It starts with Hundley’s record-setting numbers that are hard to ignore. He is the first UCLA quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards in three straight games and the eighth to total at least three 300-yard games in a season. That he’s only five games into his college career makes it all the more impressive.
Hundley ranks 18th nationally in passing yards and 17th in total offense (second among freshmen). He’s completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,470 yards and 11 touchdowns against only three interceptions.
Hundley appeared destined to start as a true freshman, but those plans didn’t pan out. He sat out last year under Rick Neuheisel, who opted for more experience, albeit a battered tandem. Hundley exhibited talent and sheer determination during spring camp and finally won over UCLA coach Jim Mora a week into fall camp.
The talent was there, sure, but the intangibles such as driving an offense under pressure, under the lights behind a roaring crowd that had yet to be proven, and therein lies the gamble Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone made in choosing a redshirt freshman as the starting quarterback.
Hundley’s led UCLA to a 4-1 overall record and No. 25-ranking. Mora and Mazzone were proven right that Hundley was the best choice, but that answer was underscored last week with his ability to dictate the perfect tempo the offense requires to thrive.
Hundley led five of UCLA’s six scoring drives against Colorado in less than three minutes, and in four of those drives Hundley needed eight or less plays.
“Here’s a kid that six games ago was playing against Hamilton High School,” Mazzone said. “He’s played five games in college football and now you’re asking him to play in a real tempo offense and make split-second decisions at the snap of the ball and immediately after the snap of the ball.”
Hundley’s not only accepted the challenge, he’s overcome it less than half way into his first season as the starter, and Mora took notice at Colorado.
“We were smoother in our operation and our tempo was more like we wanted to be,” Mora said. “I think we’re starting to hit our groove a little bit there.”
That Hundley scored 13 seconds into his college career at Rice should have been an early indication of what was to come. He scored in similar fashion against Nebraska (27-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Fauria in six seconds) and Oregon State (65-yard touchdown pass to Shaq Evans on three plays in 43 seconds), to name a few.
As Hundley continues to develop so will the efficiency with which the Bruins go about scoring. And as the right tempo continues that can only mean a bad spell for opposing defenses rushing to keep up.
“If you can catch a defense off balance a little bit, if they haven’t had a chance to read maybe some of the tactical clues, some of the tendencies that you might have developed through the years before the ball snap, that helps you,” Mora said.