UCLA QB Hundley aims to break out of slump

LOS ANGELES — This month marks the 100th anniversary of the forward pass at the collegiate level yet UCLA’s quarterback can’t seem to get off the ground.

Brett Hundley has been cleared for liftoff all season and showed an ability to air it out and hit deep targets like Shaq Evans and Devin Lucien. But in recent weeks, the redshirt sophomore has problems with even short swing passes and dump-offs.

A perfect example would be the 400-plus yards he threw for against California earlier this month – a near record-breaking performance that still warranted just an “Eh” from offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

In the last two games, Hundley hasn’t even come close to throwing for 400 yards. He’s completed just 37-of-58 (.655) passes for 256 yards and has only connected in the end zone twice while throwing four picks.

“You’ve just got to say, ‘I can do better than I’ve done these past two games,'” Hundley said. “It’s a big step, but it’s one that I will take. I’ve got to get better in practice and keep it going from there.”

The rest of the offense didn’t do much to bolster those numbers and Evans feels more of a sense of urgency to turn the offense around.

“I feel like it was definitely a wake-up call,” Evans said. “This was probably the worst two-week stretch of offense we’ve had since I’ve been here. I think everybody feels the same way.”

Evans was heavily guarded by Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who is regarded as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation. But he insists he was able to get open and Hundley either didn’t see him or saw a better option.

Quarterback coach Taylor Mazzone didn’t seem to have much of an answer.

“Looking at the defenses that we were going against, you have two of the top-tiered defenses in Stanford and Oregon,” Mazzone said. “I believe, with our game plan we’ve got to find a way to protect him in the pocket and find a way to give him the ball and give him a different look for the defenses to see what their tendencies were.”

Part of the problem could possibly be attributed to the significant changes made on the offensive line. The coaches keep using the term “musical chairs” and it’s fairly accurate. The Bruins started three true freshman on the line and Hundley’s blind side protection has changed three times in three weeks. The consensus is that the freshmen did exceptionally well but the trust between the offensive line and the quarterback isn’t something that can be built overnight.

“We know in the quarterback room that you’re not always going to have a perfect pocket,” Mazzone said. “He’s learning that as well. But he needs to still believe that trust that he’s going to try to develop throughout practice throughout the week.”

“If you’re going to be a great quarterback you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got,” Hundley said. “And to take that next step with me as a quarterback, no matter who is out on the field, I’ve got to trust who is on the field and I’ve got to play my position to the best of my ability.”

Injury update

It’s no secret that linebacker Eric Kendricks has been banged up in these last two games. Both games, he was unable to finish with him even taking a trip to Stanford Hospital for tests on his kidneys. The Pac-12’s second-leading tackler, immensely competitive by all accounts, was visibly distraught when he was taken out of the game at Oregon.

“You don’t like to divulge a lot about what happens on the sidelines,” said coach Jim Mora. “But when he had to leave that game on Saturday, he was sobbing like a baby. It hurt him so bad not to be out there with his team.”

Kendricks is in a red jersey this week with a sore back, shoulder and ankle, the same one he had surgery on over the offseason, and his status will be re-assessed before the game.

It isn’t likely that the pieced-together offensive line will go back to its original look this week, as Simon Goines is also still in a red jersey this week.

But Mora is liking the new-look line.

“The way our offensive line played was very encouraging,” Mora said. “It wasn’t perfect by any means, there was technique errors… It’s encouraging to see those guys working together.”