Pressure trumps Hundley's poise
UCLA offense unravels in face of Stanford pressure despite QB's composure
The Cardinal defense took advantage of three freshmen linemen and delivered nine hurries and four sacks to Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley, who was picked off twice and held to 192 yards passing.
Not after how close his ninth-ranked team had just come to shaking up the national championship conversation. Not after how easily his name would have jumped into the Heisman Trophy race with a win here.
"Games like this you want to win so bad," Hundley said. "That's really all I can say. You want to win these games so bad. So bad.
“"We just have to get in the film room. We'll have another opportunity."
He was in there, he was tough. He knew that some of his linemen were down, but he never showed that he was frustrated. He stuck in there and I'm proud of him for that.” -- UCLA receiver Shaquelle Evans
on his QB, Brett Hundley
Yeah, like next week at the No. 2 Oregon Ducks. A win there and the disappointment of this loss is expunged from their memories, if not their record.
Twenty-four hours from now, Hundley and his team will start thinking about the Ducks. That's the rule UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. has for his team. Twenty-four hours to feel great or terrible about a game, then you move on.
This one will be harder to move on from than most, however. Because this one wasn't just a big game for the Bruins, now 5-1, and 3-1 in Pac-12 play. It was UCLA's biggest opportunity in years. A chance to validate the culture change Mora has brought to the program and its first top-10 ranking since 2005, with a national audience watching. An opening for Hundley to announce himself as a Heisman contender.
But not all moments are for the taking. Some simply pass by. Or, in Hundley's case, some simply never had much of a chance.
It's easy to look at his 192-yard, two-interception game and say he didn't deliver. The truth is the kid was running for his life most of the game, as injuries forced the Bruins to send out three freshmen on the offensive line to protect him against Stanford's always-fierce front seven.
"I was running around back there, yeah," Hundley said. "But I can do a lot to help that part of it, as far as getting the ball out of my hands as quick as possible and going through my reads. In part, I take that upon myself."
Hundley's maturity continues to grow, even in defeat. "We just have to get in the film room. We'll have another opportunity," he said following Saturday's loss at Stanford.
But it's hard to be poised when you're feeling pressure in the pocket all day.
"It's hard to tell him, 'Keep your vision downfield' when he's starting to feel the pressure from the pass rush," UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said.
"What I should've done was run the ball a little bit more, maybe let those young guys [on the offensive line] get their feet underneath them. Maybe try to grind out some first downs."
But of course that's hard to do when leading rusher Jordon James is out for the second consecutive week with an ankle injury. Malcolm Jones started in his place and did well when he got the ball, rushing for 30 yards on five carries. But five carries is hardly a running game, and Mazzone said that was on him, too.
"I should've come back with Malcolm more," he said. "We should've run the ball more today."
The thing is, UCLA's offense is built around rhythm, and the only way to get into that rhythm is for Hundley to start spreading the ball around the field, finding receivers in space who can make plays.
It opens everything else up -- Hundley's own running game, deep balls, all of it -- and Hundley is great at conducting the show once he gets things rolling. The problem Saturday was that things never really got started.
"We all felt good about this one coming into it. We just couldn't get the fricking car out of the starting gates," Mazzone said. "We had that sucker gassed up. We were stepping on the gas. We just couldn't get it going.
"That's how we are as an offense. We live off big, explosive plays and getting guys in space. We just didn't have enough of those. You saw glimpses of it, and then where'd it go?"
It went into the black hole of Stanford's defense, which sacked Hundley four times and hurried him nine other times. The Cardinal also had seven tackles for losses, which cost UCLA 37 yards, and two interceptions.
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"He was in there, he was tough. He knew that some of his linemen were down, but he never showed that he was frustrated. He stuck in there and I'm proud of him for that."
Still, this one stung. Not just for what happened, but what could've happened and didn't.
The stage was set up so well for all of it. For UCLA. For Hundley. For Mora.
Now the Bruins must be reset as quickly as possible, with Oregon looming.
While he gives his team 24 hours to ice down and recover, Mora was already starting that process.
"I don't think any one game ever really defines you," Mora said. "Whether you've arrived or you're not very good or whatever. I think it's your body of work. So far our body of work is for the good.
"I'm not into statement games one way or the other. There's a process to building something. Today we weren't good enough. We want to get better."