Four Downs: Hundley-led Bruins humble Hokies in Sun Bowl
Here are four things we learned from No. 17 UCLA’s 42-12 thumping of Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas):
To say that Hundley plays an instrumental role in the UCLA offense would be a vast understatement. In the first half alone against Virginia Tech, he accounted for 241 of the Bruins’ 275 total yards — including touchdown runs of seven and 86 yards (an apparent Sun Bowl record for longest TD jaunt).
Hundley’s second-half output slanted more toward the passing end — thanks to two TD passes in the final 7:31 — but there was a consistent theme throughout day: Ultimately, the Hokies couldn’t stop the Bruins from eating up yardage (452 total) and racking up points.
Which brings us to this: Hundley (387 total yards, four TDs) is certainly a great runner in tight spots and open spaces, but it’s hard to tell if the NFL scouts gleaned anything concrete from Tuesday’s outing.
Hundley was eminently proficient in the final tally, but he was also erratic on a few early passes, on third down and in the red zone. And while he possesses the requisite size and arm strength of a high-level NFL prospect, the redshirt sophomore (and two-year starter) may need another year of seasoning to become a certifiable passing threat at the next level.
After all, Hundley only has three 300-yard passing outings in his career, with only one this season (410 yards, three TDS vs. Cal).
At no point in the game, or the time leading up to it, was Virginia Tech a favorite to beat UCLA.
That said, when Thomas got knocked out in the second quarter — the result of senior Jordan Zumwalt’s powerful-but-clean blast on a rollout pass — the score was deadlocked at 7 and the Hokies had enjoyed some offensive success.
Namely Virginia Tech’s 74-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter, with a long Thomas-to-Kalvin Cline reception (37 yards) serving as the big play, with the freshman receiver falling just short of the goal line.
After that, it was all Bruins (10-3) … even if they didn’t methodically pull away, scoreboard-wise, until late in the third quarter.
Virginia Tech backup QB Mark Leal (130 yards passing, zero TDs, two INTs), who had logged just four passes prior to the bowl game, acquitted himself well immediately after taking over Thomas.
However, his inability to move the ball in sustained stretches, along with VT’s failure to a convert a red-zone turnover into a touchdown when trailing 14-7, ultimately ended the Hokies’ chances of victory.
The coup de grace moment came early in the fourth quarter when Leal, under heavy pressure from the UCLA defense, fought through an in-the-grasp tackle and flung an off-balance, ill-advised pass into the waiting, leaping hands of Bruins linebacker Myles Jack, who converted the INT into a 24-yard pick-six.
For the day, UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn (0 for 2) and Virginia Tech’s Michael Branthover (1 of 2) combined for only one field goal in three attempts, with both misses being on the ‘ugly’ side of evaluation.
Fairbairn’s flat-lining kick from 35 yards was low, wobbly and wide left.
Branthover’s 45-yard miss in the second quarter had a greater degree of difficulty. But his wide-right kick was roughly 12-15 yards from the outer edges of the right post.
For this converted punter … the errant kick never had a chance.
Prior to Hundley’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Evans with 5:49 left, no pass-catcher from either team had collected more than three receptions or 41 yards — a galling stat amidst the sun-splashed, problem-free conditions at Sun Bowl Stadium.
But that all changed when Evans sprinted past two Virginia Tech defenders on a fly route, before hauling in Hundley’s feathery pass for a long score.
It was the perfect capper to Evans’ collegiate career, although he fell short of notching his first 100-yard receiving day of the season.
Both UCLA and Virginia Tech had at least eight different rushers log at least one carry; and Hundley was the only one to post double-digit carries.