The UCLA Bruins have no real idea what to expect out of Brett Hundley in his first career road contest. As Josh pointed out last week, he's young, he's talented, and he has a lot of upside that could lead Bruins fans to believe he'll lead this team over the top. Unfortunately, he's also inexperienced, which has to give a lot of people pause before his first career start this week.
The opponent Hundley starts off against shouldn't be the toughest. Rice is coming off a 4-8 season and they aren't expected to rise from the ashes this year. But the Owls went 4-1 at home, including a solid 24-22 win over Purdue, and UCLA has never played well on the road in recent years. There could be plenty of what they call teachable moments on what should be a humid, rainy Thursday night in Houston.
The big thing is that the defense will be trying to support Hundley, not the other way around. Jill Painter has more from the Los Angeles Daily News.
The defensive strategy is to help Hundley as much as possible in the early going. Think of it like staking a starting pitcher with an early 3-0 lead.
"From the defensive standpoint, hopefully we'll get on the field first and get him a three-and-out and give him some confidence," linebacker Dalton Hilliard said. "We'll go defend the end zone as well as we can."
UCLA has tended to try and make the offense be the focal point of their efforts at victory the past few seasons, with often disastrous results. This could be the type of year where a ground-based, defensive-oriented style would be the key to establishing victory. Put up a solid ground game with Johnathan Franklin and what should be an improved offensive line, then let your defense go out and win games until Hundley develops in the Noel Mazzone system where he's comfortable enough to go out and produce.
Another good sign for the Bruins relying on that particular side of the field is the presence of a more flexible UCLA defense. The schemes tended to be a bit more rigid in the earlier decade, but with a DC coming in with NFL experience, you could see more pro-style mixing and matching depending on the opponent they face.
This is going to be a growing pains year for Hundley. New schemes + new system + new coaches = General potential for hiccups. But a bowl season could very well happen if the rest of the team can pick him up.
Reactions around SB Nation
Achilles, Bruins Nation: "Hundley is the future and even if he hadn’t emerged as the clear starter through his performance in fall camp (he did), I feel him becoming the starter is almost equally important as a representation of a new beginning, even if technically he’s a player from the prior regime. But, none of that changes the fact that Hundley has never taken a snap in a college football game and last saw real action as a high school senior in Arizona. We really don’t know how he’s going to play and while the practice reports have been encouraging, nobody seems particularly blown away. As recently as earlier this week, I was reading stuff about Hundley’s "tired arm."
Dexter Fishmore, SB Nation Los Angeles: "He's got size (6'3", 223 pounds), he can run and he can make tacklers miss. At times in practice Hundley has struggled throwing the ball, especially since Mora named him the starter a couple weeks ago, and fans should expect him to make his share of freshman mistakes. But he has a much higher ceiling than either Brehaut or Prince, and he could well turn out to be a four-year starter and the most dynamic Bruins QB since Cade McNown. Brehaut and Prince have handled their demotions well, and if Hundley falters or gets hurt, either can provide a steady hand in relief."