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
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
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
That hasn’t quite happened, however, as Mora has been mentioned
as a potential replacement for Mack Brown at Texas. He’s refuted
“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.”