UCLA sees rapid maturity in Brett Hundley

PASADENA, Calif. -- There was a very noticeable difference in the way Brett Hundley quarterbacked the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night. Head coach Jim Mora saw it. So did offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. So did his teammates, the media and the 71,530 who showed up at the Rose Bowl to watch the Bruins knock off No. 16 Nebraska 36-30.

“Some guys have that aura,” said UCLA receiver/tight end Joseph Fauria.

In Hundley’s first career start, against Rice last week, he was good -- if not very good at times. But he also was inconsistent, if not gun-shy. On Saturday night, he took a significant step forward. Most players don’t take that kind of leap in their second collegiate game, let alone against a ranked opponent with the history and tradition of Nebraska. But Hundley was fearless and focused, and played with the maturity of a multiyear starter.

“There was a tremendous amount of improvement by Brett from Week 1 to Week 2,” Mora said. “He showed willingness to pull the trigger when he saw things downfield. He was much more decisive. We talked about last week how there was some hesitancy in his game, which is understandable since he was starting his first game. We saw a more decisive quarterback [tonight].”

But for all the things he did right Saturday night, it was an awkward slide that forced him out of the game for a few plays, and an even more awkward stumble backward in victory formation that drew playful criticism from Mora.

"He needs to learn how to slide, and he needs to learn how to to take a knee," Mora said.

To which Hundley responded: “I probably need to get the slip-and-slide out at practice. As you can see, it didn’t go well. And it didn’t go well at the end of the game. I just sort of fell back. I’ll fix it.”

If that’s the biggest complaint the coaches have from his performance, he'll take it. On a night when both offenses combined for 1,092 yards (653 for UCLA, 439 for Nebraska), Hundley completed 21 of 33 passes for 305 yards with four touchdowns. Two of them went to Fauria, who is quickly becoming one of Hundley’s favorite targets.

“I caught Brett as soon as he stepped on campus and I knew what he was capable of ... I saw it in him,” Fauria said. “I got in his ear and told him his future was going to be very bright. It’s coming to fruition. I’m seeing it in front of my eyes. I’m loving it. The program is in his hands right now, and he’s doing very well with it.”

Hundley, who also rushed for 53 yards, got a lot of help from running back Johnathan Franklin, who turned in his second consecutive 200-yard-plus performance, totaling a career-best 217 yards on the ground. He also got a strong performance from a young offensive line. Although he was sacked three times, he still had ample time to throw on a lot of plays, including six passes of at least 20 yards.

“I thought our offensive line did an outstanding job giving him time,” Mora said. “I mean, there were some throws out there where he could step into it and get through his progressions.”

In previous years, this was the sort of game UCLA would lose -- or maybe not even be competitive in. Locked in a 27-all tie against a ranked team halfway through the fourth quarter? You could almost chalk up a loss for the Bruins. But Hundley’s athleticism and calm demeanor have been a refreshing change for the Bruins.

“He doesn’t get flustered,” Mora said. “When he comes to the sideline, he has a very good understanding of what happened, whether it was good or bad. He keeps his emotions in check.”

That’s called maturity. And Hundley has a heck of a lot of it two games into his college career.