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UCLA makes a statement against ASU

9/26/2014



TEMPE, Ariz. -- UCLA's visit to Arizona State was popularly billed as a measuring stick game. It was a measuring stick for the Pac-12's South Division between the two teams that won it the past three seasons. It was a measuring stick for two teams that entered the game with as many questions as answers despite being unbeaten.

Apologies in advance for the unsubtle image, but UCLA took those measuring sticks and beat Arizona State over the head with them. The 15th-ranked Sun Devils jumped to an early lead but the No. 11 Bruins dominated for three quarters in a 62-27 victory.

Questions? The first one for UCLA was whether quarterback Brett Hundley would be healthy enough to play after getting knocked out of the win over Texas on Sept. 13 with a hyperextended elbow. Oh, he looked pretty healthy. He passed for 355 yards, completing 18 of 23 throws, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 72 yards and was sacked just once -- the Sun Devils sacked him nine times last year.

All that work for Hundley amounted to a 97.7 QBR rating, per ESPN Stats & Information, which is pretty close to a perfect 100.

"He's a freak of nature," said receiver Jordan Payton, who hauled in an 80-yard TD from Hundley on the first play of the third quarter; the score came during a monstrous 42-3 run from the Bruins after they fell behind 17-6 early in the second quarter.

That run required less than 20 minutes of game time and was highlighted by big plays. Other than Payton's catch and scoot, there was an 80-yard TD pass to Eldridge Massington that was brought on by comedically poor tackling, a 95-yard interception return from Ishmael Adams that was a back-breaker for the Sun Devils just before halftime, and a 100-yard kickoff return from Adams midway through the third quarter that sent Sun Devils fans stomping out of their stadium.

The Bruins needed less than nine minutes to score 28 of those points. They won by 35 points despite running practically half as many plays as the Sun Devils -- 58 to 105 -- and converting half as many first downs (19 to 38).

"I think we showed we had some grit to us," UCLA coach Jim Mora said.

Since Hundley went down versus Texas, Mora played coy with the media about his QB's status. While Hundley sported a sleeve and a brace on his left, non-throwing elbow, he seemed none the worse for wear, taking a number of hits and even hurdling flailing defenders. The strong implication after the game was no one in the Bruins locker room had believed Hundley would again give way to backup Jerry Neuheisel, particularly considering he was playing in his hometown.

Mora was asked after the game at what point did he know Hundley would play.

"I don't know how to answer that," he quipped. "I can answer it truthfully or I can lie."

The truth is this performance made a statement for the Bruins, a team which had yet to live up to its preseason hype as a national title contender. The truth also is this performance was far from perfect. While UCLA dominated, its defense also yielded 626 yards.

"I'm not happy with it and I don't think they are happy with it," Mora said. "We have to play better."

On the other hand, Arizona State scored only 10 points after the 14:24 mark of the second quarter and averaged just 6.0 yards per play. Eight Pac-12 teams have averaged more than that per play this year, and the Sun Devils entered the game averaging 7.6 yards per play.

UCLA averaged 10 yards per play on offense, something that didn't make Arizona State coach Todd Graham very happy.

"Tackling was atrocious. Very, very poor tackling," Graham said. "Fundamentally we looked bad and looked inexperienced. I am lost for words. I think we got worn down. I do not think our conditioning was very good."

Unlike UCLA, Arizona State was forced to use backup QB Mike Bercovici because of a foot injury to starter Taylor Kelly. Bercovici made plenty of plays, completing 42 of 68 throws for 488 yards and three TDs, but he also hurled two interceptions and fumbled.

"I think Mike did some great things but you cannot make turnovers," Graham said. "That was the story of the night. He did make some great plays and overcame adversity. For his first time starting, he really showed some promise."

Hundley spent most of his postgame session with reporters celebrating his offensive line and receivers and downplaying his elbow injury. When asked how close the Bruins are to reaching their potential he said, "Very close."

"We just keep getting better," he said. "The sky is the limit."

The "sky" was the lofty measure some ascribed to the Bruins in the preseason. After three unimpressive wins, however, more than a few pundits started throwing this team back to earth.

It's possible UCLA now will require a new measure after pounding the Sun Devils in their own house.