PASADENA, Calif. -- The UCLA Bruins passed a crucial test in Week 1, which was (mostly) containing a dual-threat quarterback. Nevada's Cody Fajardo spent the first half of Saturday night’s 58-20 Bruins’ victory at the Rose Bowl dodging over-pursuing outside linebackers and escaping edges that were thought to be contained.
In the second half, not so much. Fajardo rushed for 79 yards in the first half, but was limited to just 27 after halftime. In total, Fajardo rushed for 106 yards and two scores. There were valuable lessons learned, and they will carry the Bruins through a schedule that includes some of the nation’s top dual-threat QBs. And getting to see a versatile quarterback like Fajardo in the first game gives the Bruins a framework for what they did right and what they need to correct moving forward.
“I think it’s invaluable,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora. “(Nebraska’s) Taylor Martinez, who we see next, to me is one of the top running quarterbacks in football – at any level. For us to play a guy like we did today and for him to have the success he had and learn from it is really going to help us. To see it on film is really going to ingrain the learning in our young men. And it’s a chance for us to say what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong? What do we need to adjust? What do we need to do better?
“We can’t let quarterbacks do that to us. That’s what interesting about this college game. These quarterbacks are such threats running the football. I’m still adjusting to it. I better adjust darn quickly.”
“At the college level, everyone has a guy who can tuck and run, whether it’s designed or not,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos. “They are all threats. Most colleges have dual-threat guys. You have to adjust accordingly. Every call you have, someone who has to be responsible for the quarterback. It’s a great challenge every week.”
The Bruins finally got through to Fajardo in the second half with a pair of sacks -- a considerably low total for a team that ranked eighth in the country in 2012 at sacks per game -- but understandable considering the scrambling ability of Fajardo. Keenan Graham tallied both of UCLA’s sacks, one of which led to a game-changing blocked punt and touchdown that swung the momentum toward the Bruins in the second half.
It also helped that -- at least in the first half -- the Wolfpack pushed back. With a schedule that includes four teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 (and now likely a fifth after Washington’s win over No. 19 Boise state), rolling over an FBS team probably wouldn’t have been that beneficial to a Bruins team with Rose Bowl aspirations.
“In our preparation for Nevada, we knew they were going to come hard,” said UCLA offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo. “That’s a good team. They pushed us in the first half and forced us to make some adjustments. That’s a good thing for our team. That was really good preparation for us as we start to get ready for Nebraska.”
For veterans like linebackers Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, running quarterbacks at the college level aren’t much of a surprise. But for someone like true freshman linebacker Myles Jack, who tallied eight tackles and a tackle for a loss, the experience of seeing a runner early in his career was invaluable.
“I would say it was crucial for us young guys to be exposed to that early -- and not just us, the whole team,” Jack said. “Fajardo should be a Heisman candidate. He’s a great player. And for us to see someone like that in Week 1 was a good preview of what we’re going to see over the next few weeks and for the rest of the season.”