The most impressive win of the Jim Mora era of UCLA football came Saturday morning when the Bruins steamrolled the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the second half of their tilt in Lincoln, NE.
While the defense deserves all kinds of credit, there’s something to be said about this offense, which rattled off 38 unanswered points against the 23rd-ranked team in the country. UCLA fans may have to get used to this, as the Bruins racked up 20 unanswered points against Nevada heading into the fourth quarter of that contest. (And then they rattled off 21 unanswered after a Nevada touchdown early in the fourth quarter. If you’re keeping count, UCLA has outscored opponents 72-7 in the second half.)
With that, here are the grades for UCLA’s offensive units.
While Hundley was damn near flawless in the second half, his performance in the first half was pretty forgettable. Ball security looked lackadaisical early on, with the redshirt sophomore committing a fumble and tossing an interception to start. Combine that with Hundley completing just two of his first six passes, and that first quarter as a whole should probably just be swept under the rug.
Hundley would bounce back though, and then some. After finally regaining his composure, Hundley scrambled for a first down on third-and-forever late in the first half with the Bruins down 21-3, keeping alive a drive that would kickstart UCLA’s offense. The Bruins would score on that drive … and the next … and the next … and the next …
So yes, we’re docking points off here because Hundley’s first quarter was possibly the worst first quarter of his career. We’re not docking off more because of the circumstances (given the emotions flying around after the loss of teammate Nick Pasquale). Oh, and we’re also not docking off points because he’s just that damn good.
Offensive Line: A-
Easily the most improved unit from last season, the offensive line is far and away the most important unit on this team. While Hundley’s improved significantly, much of his success can be directly attributed to the time he has in the pocket. Last season, the criticism levied upon the then-freshman was that he was far too antsy and indecisive about his pocket presence. But that criticism fails to take into account that Hundley took snaps behind a highly inexperienced and incredibly frustrating offensive line.
Hundley has had all the time in the world to throw this season and the tilt with Nebraska was no different. The Bruin can now step into the pocket to launch deep throws (which, by the way, he’s overthrowing now, but will start hitting those consistently as the season goes on) and he’s also able to operate on his feet.
Credit to the line for this. Hundley was sacked three times this game, sure, but two were his own doing (gotta get the ball out of your hands, Brett).
So why’d the line get an A-minus and not an A or A-plus? Because much like Hundley, the line didn’t have a memorable first half. Jordon James was unable to find any running lanes because Nebraska had clogged them up, and this team, while Hundley is a superstar in the making, is a run-first team that requires its ground game get off the, well, ground.
Wide Receivers: A
Aside from a single striking drop from Grayson Mazzone (Noel Mazzone’s kid), the receiving corps did its job. Once receivers had the ball in their hands, they made the correct moves in open space to capitalize.
And once again, Shaq Evans proved to be this team’s star, earning three receptions for 97 yards to go along with a touchdown. Evans will be targeted heavily, we’re sure, and he’ll be a real problem for opponents to deal with.
Running Backs: B
We can’t entirely blame Jordon James for getting off to a slow start, but it seems somewhat clear to us that this team benefited tremendously from having Johnathan Franklin around. Last year, when all hell broke loose and the offensive line looked lost, the Mayor consistently earned serious yardage in tight spaces. James can’t be expected to do that, at least not yet.
Still, this ground game took awhile to garner momentum. When they did, though, this team took off and James wound up earning 105 yards. Off of 22 carries, sure, but a good chunk of those came early when the staff appeared hellbent on losing this tilt with Nebraska on the back of James.
The run game got figured out though, and aside from James continuing to play rather superbly, Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones made a few impressive appearances as well.
TOTAL GRADE: A-
Next time, let’s start playing football a little earlier, eh, UCLA?