Virginia Tech-UCLA Preview

Jim Mora has UCLA on the cusp of its best season in eight years,

and that’s precisely why the Bruins want him around for the long

term.

Frank Beamer’s tenure at Virginia Tech has yielded the longest

active streak of bowl appearances for a coach.

With Mora reaffirming his commitment to the No. 17 Bruins, he’ll

try to lead them to their first postseason win in four years on New

Year’s Eve in their first meeting with Beamer and the Hokies in the

Sun Bowl.

UCLA (9-3) is on the verge of winning 10 games for the first

time since going 10-2 in 2005. That was also the last time it

finished among the Top 25, ranking 16th.

The Bruins fell just short of reaching double-digit victories

last year, losing 49-26 to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl to cap Mora’s

first season at the helm with a three-game losing streak.

He’s planning to remain in Los Angeles for a while. Mora signed

a six-year contract extension in early December that UCLA may be

hoping quells interest from high-profile programs with

openings.

That hasn’t quite happened, however, as Mora has been mentioned

as a potential replacement for Mack Brown at Texas. He’s refuted

the link.

“Rumors. It’s flattering,” Mora said. “I think it says a lot

about our program and the direction we’re heading, but I am very,

very, very extremely delightfully happy to be the head coach at

UCLA, and want to be for a very long time.”

With Mora staying, that could increase the chance of quarterback

Brett Hundley returning for his junior season.

Hundley leads the Pac-12 with a 67.8 completion percentage,

throwing for 2,845 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

He’s been picked off once while tossing eight scoring passes over

the past five games.

Hundley also leads the team with 587 rushing yards and nine

touchdowns. He reached the end zone twice with his legs Nov. 30 in

leading the Bruins to a 35-14 win over then-No. 23 Southern

California in the regular-season finale.

Hundley ran 13 times for 80 yards, adding 208 more while

completing 18 of 27 passes.

UCLA, though, has struggled to protect Hundley, who has been

sacked 33 times, second-most in the conference.

Limiting the activity in the backfield may be difficult since

Virginia Tech (8-4) leads the ACC in sacks (37) and ranks among the

nation’s top 10 against the rush (103.8 yards per game), the pass

(168.5) and in interceptions (19).

The Hokies’ success isn’t a surprise to Mora.

“They play great special teams, they play outstanding defense.

That’s what they do,” Mora said. “They play hard. They play with

discipline. You don’t see technique errors. You don’t see missed

assignments. You see a bunch of guys who know what they’re supposed

to do with a lot of certainty, and they do it fast and they do it

with bad intentions.

“It’s an impressive team to watch.”

While Mora is just getting started at UCLA, Beamer is leading

Virginia Tech into a 21st consecutive bowl game. That’s the longest

active streak for a coach, while it’s second among active bowl runs

by a team behind Florida State’s 32.

Logan Thomas is expected to be under center for his third

straight bowl, but he’ll likely need to be better to give the

Hokies a chance. He’s completed 34 of 67 passes for 407 yards with

one touchdown and three interceptions over the first two.

Thomas played well in November even though the Hokies went just

2-2. He averaged 9.06 yards per attempt with seven TDs and three

INTs in those final four contests, throwing a 26-yard touchdown to

Trey Edmunds late in the fourth quarter to seal a 16-6 win at

Virginia to conclude the regular season.

Edmunds leads Virginia Tech with 675 yards while averaging 4.1

per carry with 12 touchdowns – 10 rushing. He’s facing a UCLA

defense that gave up an average of 193.6 rushing yards over its

last seven games.

The Bruins’ backfield includes Myles Jack, the Pac-12’s freshman

of the year on both offense and defense – starring at linebacker

and as a running back. He gained 269 yards and scored seven

touchdowns on 37 carries, punching it in four times in a 41-31 win

over Washington on Nov. 15.

”To have an opponent like UCLA is a real challenge,” Beamer

said. ”But that’s what you like at this time of year – to play a

game that means something against a quality opponent. That’s what

we’ve got, and in a great setting, a great bowl situation.

”The reality is we’re fortunate to be here. With the young

people that we’ve played and the injuries that we’ve had, the

competition of our league. I think the ACC gets bigger and stronger

every year. I think we’re hanging in there pretty well so far in

the bowls. I think it’s just a fact of life: the ACC is getting

more competitive. It’s not a given that you can win eight games or

nine games or 10 games.”