TEMPE, Ariz. — Noel Mazzone bestowed a special title on Brett Hundley on the Tuesday before UCLA’s road game at Arizona State.
“I told him, ‘Brett, I think today’s the day,'” the Bruins offensive coordinator said. “You’re the starting quarterback. I’m anointing you.”
“It was kind of weird,” said, Hundley, who has owned that title since training camp. “But I was like, ‘OK, what do I need to do?'”
More efforts like Saturday’s will do just fine. Playing against the nation’s top-ranked pass defense, Hundley completed 19 of 29 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns as the Bruins asserted themselves as legitimate contenders in the Pac-12 South Division race with a 45-43 win over the Sun Devils.
With his team trailing by a point in the final minutes at Sun Devil Stadium, the redshirt freshman from Chandler, Arizona led his team 60 yards in 12 plays to set up Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 33-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired.
“You’ve got to lead your troops no matter what situation you’re in,” Hundley said. “God blessed us with a minute thirty-three. I told everyone, ‘just do what you’re coached to do.'”
On the drive, Hundley completed 4 of 5 passes, including a 19-yard completion to Steven Manfro on which he hung in the pocket for a long time with the pass rush bearing down on him.
Every team hopes for poise from its quarterback in such situations, but do they expect it from “a redshirt freshman?” said Mazzone, finishing a reporters’ question. “He was more poised than I was. I was yelling my ass off at him.”
That unflappable demeanor was the most influential talking point for the coaching staff when it named Hundley the starter in fall camp.
“What you try to do in practices is put guys in situations where they have to solve problems, figure out things, make decisions on the move,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “There were times in spring ball and early in fall ball where if he had a negative play he was able to put it behind him quickly and learn from it… and then he’d make a heck of a play on the next play.
“In the role that he is, that’s a tremendous credit to him.”
Hundley applied those same skills on Saturday despite an especially charged Mazzone in his ear. This game meant more than just a win for Mazzone, ASU’s former offensive coordinator, who left when Dennis Erickson was fired last season.
“I was an emotional wreck all week,” said Mazzone of returning to Tempe. “But to be honest with you, once we fell behind 14-0 I didn’t give a (expletive) about that any more. I was just trying to survive and get our offense going. Brett did a nice job of not panicking at the end like me.”
Hundley laughed when apprised of Mazzone’s assessment.
“I love coach Mazzone,” he said. “He trusts me with his offense and I trust him with the play calls. Together, we’re going to do a lot of big things.”
In the school’s big-picture dreams, so will the Bruins. With Hundley at the helm and Mora guiding the long under-achieving program, UCLA is showing signs of returning to its rightful place in the college football pecking order. Saturday’s win was another step on that long staircase.
“It helps you believe in what you’re doing when you go on the road and find yourself in a tough environment,” Mora said. “When you don’t come from behind once but you come from behind twice, there’s a sense of belief in yourself as a player and in the systems that you’re installing — but only if we don’t gloss over the negatives that still happen in the game.