The good news is that the UCLA offense is not broken.
Brett Hundley completed 33 of 44 passes for 396 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in UCLA’s 42-35 win over Memphis. Paul Perkins rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
But the defense looked as though it might be broken.
Memphis won only eight games in the last two seasons coming into Saturday’s game but, for a brief moment, it looked like it could have been nine. The vaunted UCLA defense was the talk of college football all week. Saturday, they were unable to adjust against the Tigers’ misdirection option offense.
"They are very unorthodox on offense and they do some untraditional things," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said. "I felt like guys, at times, were trying to do too much, rather than doing what they were supposed to do. When you try to do too much, rather than what you’re supposed to do, you get exposed."
Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch threw for 305 yards; and the Tigers scored three rushing touchdowns. The pass rush was flummoxed; and the secondary a step behind. The defense was continually confused.
"They ran a specific power screen today and they were in that same formation many times," linebacker Eric Kendricks, a defensive team captain, said. "We all though it was power and we bit on it and they ran the screen out of it which was a look we hadn’t seen before."
Stud of the Game: Hundley did what a team leader does — keeping the team calm, effectively pushing the pace when the Tigers were showing signs of fatigue. He made one mistake — a pick-six by Fritz Etienne early in the fourth — but quickly righted the ship.
"As a quarterback, stuff happens," Hundley said. "You’ve just got to come back, take your team right down the field and score a touchdown."
Tight end Thomas Duarte and Perkins were close behind him, playing integral supporting roles. Duarte, a sophomore, had his first two career receptions and a career-high four catches.
Prkins’ two touchdowns also were the first of the redshirt sophomore’s career.
Dud of the Game: Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich shouldered the blame for the poor defensive performance saying he needed to expand the playbook.
"I think schematically, I probably made it a little too simple this week," Ulbrich said. "I didn’t have enough answers for our guys and I put that on me. I will continue to improve on that and give them more answers and give them the opportunity to be more successful."
He’s not worried about the future of the defense as a whole.
"I know the guys that we got and they’re committed to it, they want to be great," he said. "And they’ve got the ability to be great."
Key Moments: An easy pick-six by Fritz Etienne tied the game at 35 in the fourth quarter. Hundley carried the offense on his back down the field and answered back with a phenomenal play, faking the swing to draw the defensive backs away from the end zone and finding Thomas Duarte with a beautiful arcing, 33-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winner.
Key Stat: The Rose Bowl crowd of 72,098 was the largest at a home-opener since Sept. 8, 2007 against BYU.
They said it: "That was probably the most calm that everybody has ever been. We live for situations like that where the game is on the line and we need to come up with a play." — Duarte on the huddle right before Hundley’s game-winning touchdown pass.
What’s next: Texas. It’s a big one for many reasons.
The first being the fact that new head coach Charlie Strong was hired only after Mora turned the job down.
But even more important, it’s the first time the Bruins are facing a team that isn’t perceived to be a far lesser team. After two underwhelming performances, a big win over the Longhorns at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on national TV could put UCLA back into a more favorable conversation.