UCLA vs. Utah: 10 Things We Learned from the Bruins' Win
It wasn't pretty, and it certainly wasn't easy, but UCLA survived a scare at Utah on Thursday night, emerging from Salt Lake City with a 34-27 win.
The Utes recovered an onside kick after cutting the lead to seven and drove down near the Bruins end zone with under a minute left. A score would have given them a chance to tie or even take the lead.
But alas, UCLA forced Utah's Travis Wilson into his sixth interception of the game, salting away the win and helping it advance to 4-0 on the season.
Here's what we learned in the process:
Brett Hundley Is Not Your Average Quarterback
Hundley did a little bit of everything on Thursday night. Seriously. That's not just a trite platitude. He honestly did some of everything.
Devin Fuller threw a touchdown pass to him in the second quarter, and Hundley threw a touchdown pass of his own a few minutes later.
In the fourth, with UCLA up by three, he rushed for a 36-yard score, giving him the holy trifecta of offensive TDs.
Hundley also punted in this game, pooching one down inside the Utes' 10-yard line. He is truly a Brett of All Trades.
He's Also Super Tough
Hundley was under pressure all night, and he took way more hits than he was used to. But he got up after each one, and his body showed few ill effects.
With defenders flying in his face, he stepped into each throw with confidence. On more than one occasion, with a defender milliseconds away from crushing him, he delivered a picture-perfect strike.
When NFL scouts start devouring Hundley's tape, these are the things they will notice. He played like a true (future) professional on Thursday.
But Nobody Is Perfect...
Hundley made one glaring mistake against Utah. And while that's a minuscule number, it was almost enough to cost UCLA the game.
Leading by seven, Hundley tried too hard to make something happen, forcing a pass (under pressure) where it shouldn't have gone and giving Utah a pick-six. That tied the game and almost gave the Utes enough momentum to mount a comeback.
Things won't always be sunshine and roses for this offense. Even though it's great, against decent defenses, there will always be times of struggle.
Hundley must learn how to deal with that. He can't get frustrated and make passes that he knows are ill-advised.
That's what separates the "goods" from the "greats."
Something Is Wrong with Jake Brendel
The Bruins' starting center was in a funk all night, and only because of Hundley did it end up being okay.
Brendel couldn't seem to get his shotgun snaps right on Thursday, consistently putting them low. When Hundley was out fixing his contact, he sailed one past backup Jerry Neuheisel, resulting in a 20-plus-yard loss.
Hundley did a great job corralling low snaps, often even turning them into positive plays after saving the loss. But that cannot sustain.
Whatever is ailing Brendel (who also had a costly holding penalty), he needs to fix it.
The Offensive Line Is Not Deep
Starting left tackle Torian White left the game with an injury forcing true freshman Caleb Benenoch into action. The results were not great.
Utah dialed up pressure all night, and it worked more often than it didn't. That's to be expected with youth at such important positions, but it needs to be fixed.
White's injury seemed serious when he sustained it. There's a chance this could be a longer-than-temporary situation; and Hundley won't make it through the season taking this many shots.
But the Running Back Position Is Quite Deep
Jordon James, the Bruins' leading rusher, left the game with an injury too. But unlike the problems it had replacing White at left tackle, UCLA was able to recreate James' production.
It actually might have exceeded it. As good as James has been this season, backup Paul Perkins stole the show, in spots, on Thursday night. He was quick and physical, and he finished every single run with oomph.
Perkins finished with 92 yards on 16 carries and two catches for 49 yards (including a huge 44-yarder on the first possession).
UCLA could obviously use James' return, but Perkins might be the more talented player.
UCLA Might Have the Best Linebackers in America
Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and freshman Myles Jack were all varying degrees of awesome on Thursday. But none of them were anything short of that.
Barr was his usual self, flying around the backfield, racking up sacks and tracking down running backs for negative gains. Kendricks was a steadying force in the middle too, making tackles when UCLA needed them most.
Jack might have been the most impressive of the trio—at least relative to pedigree. He made things happen all night, both tipping passes that led to picks and picking off the game-clincher himself.
This is truly an elite unit, one that can make a strong claim as America's best. Eat your heart out, Crimson Tide.
Cassius Marsh Is a "Fiesty" Dude
Cassius Marsh got into it with the Utah sideline at one point during the second half, directly after being trucked by a much smaller running back.
He did his own type of running—the with-his-mouth kind—afterward, and even ended up floating an obscene gesture (NSFW) in the direction of Utah's bench.
That prompted the Fox Sports broadcast to comment on his feistiness, which Marsh quickly validated by making an athletic tackle in the backfield on the ensuing play.
Such a feisty dude.
The Third Down Defense Is for Real
UCLA entered the game 13th in America in defensive third-down rate. The Bruins were allowing just 26.7 percent of opposing third downs to be converted.
But they took that to a new level on Thursday, holding a very good Utah offense to just 2-13 third-down conversions and consistently stifling its drives.
This is the sign of a well-coached defense, one with strong leaders and athletes on its roster. It smells blood on each and every possession, sensing when it's time to step up and make a play.
Travis Wilson Isn't There Yet
He can be good. He can be really good. At some point, he might even be an All-Pac-12 player. But for now, Travis Wilson is still a ways away.
All the physical tools are there, and Wilson—despite the six interceptions—did a lot of things well on Thursday. He got Utah off to a very fast start and played well on its final few drives.
But the turnovers were crippling. They lost Utah the game. And even though not all of them were Wilson's fault, he had his hand in enough of them to draw blame.
Six interceptions are six interceptions. And that's always an inexcusable number.