Early in UCLA’s fall camp, quarterback Brett Hundley was described by his coach as “unflappable.” While it’s easy to remain calm and collected in the low-pressure atmosphere of Cal State San Bernardino, the redshirt freshman had yet to take a snap in a collegiate game.
Thursday night in UCLA’s season-opener against Rice, Hundley took that first snap and made it memorable.
On Hundley’s first touch of his Bruins career, he faked the handoff and ran the option. He shook a defender, broke a tackle and burst into the open field. He picked up a block and cut back before running into the end zone to complete his introduction: A 72-yard touchdown run.
If there was any pressure, Hundley was unaffected.
From there, he went on to engineer an exciting first half and ultimately, a season-opening 49-24 win. Hundley wracked up 270 total yards, passing for 202 and rushing for 68. He went 21-for-28 in the air with just one interception — a second-quarter miscue that was quickly made up for by the defense when Damien Holmes ran a fumble back 44 yards into the end zone.
Hundley could be the face that the Bruins need.
UCLA has been searching for a presence in the pocket to help lead a program that has been lacking an identity in recent years. Since 2007, six different quarterbacks started under center for UCLA.
Hundley won the job this season over veterans Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince. While the seniors have been effective over the last three seasons, neither one has emerged as a star.
But Hundley, an unlikely leader at just 19 years old, played like one in his debut.
Hundley led UCLA on three straight scoring drives to open the game, putting up a score to match his age in just the first quarter. Johnathan Franklin capped that sequence with another big play, rushing 74 yards for a touchdown just four minutes after Hundley’s opening run.
The Owls then scored 17 unanswered points to cut UCLA’s lead to just two, but it lasted all of three minutes. The team of Hundley and Franklin wore down a Rice defense. Franklin torched the Owls for 218 total yards and touchdown runs of 74, 78 and 22 yards.
Should Hundley be unable to shoulder the load of being the face of Westwood this season, new head coach Jim Mora should be able to call on the Franklin, the local Dorsey High product.
But if Hundley’s collegiate debut is one indicative of things to come, the Bruins should have a very entertaining season ahead of them.