As the first round of camera flashes dimmed Saturday, Brett Hundley pointed up and closed with these words: “Shoutout to the O-line.”
A year ago, a young patchworked UCLA line did little to keep Hundley from getting sacked 52 times — the highest total of any Pac-12 quarterback. The Bruins’ showing in a 58-20 home win over Nevada was close to a complete 180.
The star quarterback was one of many pleased parties. Almost every tailback credited the line for paving gaping holes. Head coach Jim Mora praised the unit for its pass protection. Even offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, who said he was a bit nervous heading into the game, knew his unit would be fine after two or three series.
“I actually felt like we started off real fast,” left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo said. “That’s what I really liked. The thing I noticed about Brett this year, I thought he was calm and composed. He felt good.
“When Brett’s happy, when Brett’s comfortable, our offense rolls.”
On Saturday, that meant 647 total yards — the ninth-highest total in school history. Hundley had two rushing touchdowns for the third time in his career, running seven times for 63 yards. His jersey may not even need a cleaning, so rarely did he hit the turf.
The running backs feasted too. Five different backs had runs of at least 20 yards. New starter Jordon James, who averaged 3.3 yards per carry his first two seasons, needed just 21 carries for a career-high 155 years — all collected in the first three quarters.
Clearly outplayed in its debut in a new Tampa 2 scheme, Nevada’s defensive line did little to create a consistent pass rush against the Bruins.
“We executed our game plan,” Su’a-Filo said. “We were able to anticipate what they were doing. What we anticipated was that they would stunt us. Almost every play for almost the whole first half, they did.”
Already an All-American last season, Su’a-Filo started his junior season with an expected standout performance, playing aggressive and making big pancake blocks. He and center Jake Brendel entered the offseason as the anchors of the unit, but sophomores Torian White and Simon Goines solidified the right and left tackles.
The real surprise Saturday night at the Rose Bowl was true freshman Alex Redmond. Through most of fall camp, he had started slow while 2013 classmate Caleb Benenoch held down first-team reps at right guard. Over the past week or so, their roles flipped. On Wednesday, Redmond earned the start.
He produced, playing with what Klemm called a “violent disposition.” The assistant coach said it was one of the better games he had ever seen from a young player.
It’s only one game against a below-average Nevada defense, but the win still offered a glimpse of the line’s potential. This is what coaches had hoped for when they landed seven offensive linemen to go with a promising returning core. Communication has improved, and — after some roster attrition — the locker room culture seems to have changed.
“It’s a different kind of room now,” Klemm said. “Everybody’s bought in. Everybody’s a real physical guy. Just different. I think it’s contagious.”
Added Mora : “I said in camp that I thought they were going to be one of the strengths of our team. I thought last night — it’s just one game — they made me feel that maybe I’m right.”