UCLA QB situation remains unsettled after spring
May, 5, 2012
By Peter Yoon | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Peter Yoon/ESPNLA.comBrett Hundley is one of three QBs who will head into the fall trying to win the starting job.
PASADENA -- UCLA's spring practice ended Saturday with the playing of the annual spring scrimmage at the Rose Bowl and the Bruins found themselves with pretty much the same quarterback situation they had when spring football started: There is no starter.
Coach Jim Mora said none of the contending quarterbacks had separated himself enough to win the job, so the competition will last into fall camp. He set an Aug. 16 deadline for announcing a starter, which is two weeks before UCLA opens at Rice.
Until then, quarterbacks Richard Brehaut, Brett Hundley and Kevin Prince will have to continue to try and show they deserve the job.
"I think what we gain by waiting is I want to keep a competitive environment and quite frankly I don’t think that anyone has really reached out and grabbed it enough for me to make that decision yet," Mora said after the scrimmage, the last on-field session he will have with the players until training camp begins in August.
Mora acknowledged that it was down to a three-man race with Jerry Neuheisel, T.J. Millweard and Mike Fafaul dropping out of contention after beginning the spring on equal footing.
The spring game wasn't going to make or break any of the quarterback candidates, but each played fairly well. Brehaut made the big plays that are part of his modus operandi and finished with 249 yards and four touchdowns on 12 of 16 passing. He did not have a pass intercepted.
Hundley completed 12 of 20 passes for 185 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also made several dazzling plays with his legs, including a touchdown run of about 15 yards. Prince, still nursing a sore shoulder, played steady and completed eight of 11 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
But those statistics must be taken with a grain of salt. The UCLA defense is playing quite short-handed because of injuries, especially in the secondary and linebacker corps. Three long touchdown passes went in the direction of walk-on cornerback Erick Zumwalt, a freshman generously listed at 5 feet 10, who was forced into duty because of the lack of depth in the secondary.
Also, the defense was playing a vanilla coverage to not give away much in the line of schemes and strategy on such a public stage.
"It was fun to see our quarterbacks have success early," Mora said. "I think we have to temper that with the fact that defensively we were playing bland defenses. We were playing single safety middle and leaving our corners in a clutch a lot of the time. We weren’t really pressuring."
And so the quarterback debate goes on and UCLA will have to wait to find out who will lead them come the opener. The fact nobody emerged from spring with the starting job is either a sign that all the quarterbacks are playing at a high level or an indictment of the abilities of the best available choices.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who also coaches the quarterbacks, said it's more of the former than the latter.
"I don’t think it’s stressful at all because I think I’ve got some good players at that spot," Mazzone said. "Now it’s stressful when you leave spring and you don’t think you have anybody. That is stressful."
The offseason certainly will be stressful for the contenders. Brehaut is so focused on winning the job that he said he would give up his spot on the UCLA baseball team to dedicate himself to becoming the Bruins' quarterback.
It's a major step forward for a player whose dedication has been the subject of debate since he arrived at UCLA and he said he's all for putting in the effort it will take to be on the field for the season opener.
"They want to see how everyone does outside of football," he said. "They’ve seen what we can do on the field, now let’s see what they can do off the field."
Leaving spring camp without the starting job isn't too much of a disappointment, Brehaut said.
"I think that I played to the best of my ability," he said. "The fact that I didn’t win it wasn’t because I didn’t do a great job, it was because other guys are doing a hell of a job, too. So I think that’s a great problem for us to have."
Prince, the veteran with impeccable character who has begun each of the last three seasons as starter, stands to gain the most by the delay in naming a starter. He was hampered the latter half of spring by a sore shoulder and fell behind in the race.
He said he'd spend the next few weeks resting and rehabbing his shoulder so that he can improve his performance once camp starts up again.
"There’s a little bit of disappointment," he said. "It would be nice to be named the starter, but it’s going to keep pushing me personally into the fall. I think it’s going to help to be able to rehab and that’s what I’m looking forward to -- just to get it stronger."
Hundley, the freshman who oozes potential, has improved the most throughout camp, but there is considerable risk picking a player with so little experience, especially considering UCLA opens with a road game followed by a tough home game against Nebraska.
Some feel Hundley actually showed enough to warrant winning the job this spring, but he said he wasn't disappointed that Mora extended the competition.
"To be honest I’m truly not worried about any of that," Hundley said. "My goal is to try and get ready. I made mistakes out here so my goal is to try and get better. Even if I did get named it, I’d still have the same drive and motivation that I came here with."
Mora said this is the best situation for the team. Having three guys push each other can only make everyone better, he said. Before spring camp started, he said he would like to have a starter emerge by the time the spring scrimmage had ended, but isn't going to lose sleep over not having a quarterback in early May.
"I would have liked to see that, but I think that they are all competing so hard," Mora said. "They came out tonight and they all did some good things. I said we’d like for someone to reach out and grab it but if they don’t we’re not going to force it. And we’re not going to force it."
Not yet, anyway.
"August 16," he said. "Then we’re going to force it."