The Sun Bowl matchup is set: Virginia Tech will take on No. 17 UCLA in El Paso on Dec. 31. The teams have never met, and as such, Hokies fans probably need some sort of introduction to the Bruins. I’ll do it in two parts: offense today and defense and special teams tomorrow.
Briefly, here are things you should know about the program:
– Jim Mora is the coach and will remain so after recently turning down his alma mater, Washington, and agreeing to a six-year extension. He’s 18-8 in two years with the Bruins. You might remember him from such NFL jobs as “everywhere he coached before UCLA.” Most notably he was the head coach for the Atlanta Falcons (2004-06) and Seattle Seahawks (2009). His dad is this guy.
– UCLA began playing football in 1919 and has a 573–389–37 overall record in 95 years. This is the Bruins’ 33rd bowl appearance. That includes one claimed national title (1954, which was a shared year with Ohio State) and 17 conference titles. The Bruins have won the Pac-12′s South Division twice, although that first year was a result of USC not being able to go (UCLA was 6-6).
– Quarterback Gary Beban is the school’s lone Heisman Trophy winner. He won it in 1967. The Bruins have had 39 consensus All-Americans and 28 first-round draft picks, a number that will increase this year with Anthony Barr (and possibly Brett Hundley, if he goes pro).
– Two coaches have had great runs of success. Henry “Red” Sanders went 66-19-1 from 1949-57. Terry Donahue is the standard bearer recently, going 151-74-8 from 1976-95. He went to four Rose Bowls and won three of them.
– Notable alums include: QB Troy Aikman, OT Jonathan Ogden, C Randy Cross, QB Billy Kilmer, S Kenny Easley, LB Jerry Robinson, RB Maurice Jones-Drew.
– The Bruins have won nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997 and ’98. In their effort to re-claim Los Angeles, they beat USC in the Coliseum for the first time since 1997 this year. It also marked their first back-to-back wins against the Trojans since, again, 1997 and ’98.
Now for a look at UCLA’s offense:
- Total offense: 448.2 ypg (37th nationally)
- Rushing offense: 196.6 ypg (38th nationally)
- Passing offense: 251.6 ypg (44th nationally)
- Team passing efficiency: 154.56 (16th nationally)
- Scoring offense: 36.5 ppg (23rd nationally)
- Third down conversions: 50% (12th nationally)
- Red zone offense: 86.7% (t-35th nationally)
Three to watch
1. QB Brett Hundley, So.: The 6-foot-3, 222-pound redshirt sophomore is considered one of the top quarterbacks in the country, especially given his multiple threats. He’s thrown for 2,845 yards and 22 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. He also leads the team with 587 rushing yards and nine scores. He could be a top-10 NFL draft pick if he chooses to go pro. He has 10 career 300-yard games (passing and running combined), only two shy of UCLA record holder Cade McNown.
2. LT/LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, Jr.: The Bruins’ only offensive first-team selection on the All-Pac-12 teams, Su’a-Filo has been a mainstay on the line since stepping on campus. The junior has 39 career starts, tops on the team, starting since he was a true freshman. The 6-foot-3, 304-pounder also could be an early entrant in the NFL draft. He began his career as a starting left tackle in 2009, then spent two years on a Mormon mission. He’s alternated between left guard and tackle all season.
3. WR Shaquelle Evans, Sr.: The receiver leads a balanced passing attack with 43 catches for 617 yards and eight touchdowns. Those numbers are slightly down from 2012 (60 catches, 877 yards), but he remains a dangerous offensive threat. The 6-foot-1, 204-pounder originally played at Notre Dame before transferring in 2010.
Others of note
– RB Myles Jack, Fr.: A two-way player whose seven rushing touchdowns are second most on the team to Hundley’s nine. He ran for 120 yards and a touchdown on six carries against Arizona.
– RB Jordon James, Jr.: Was fifth in the nation in rushing yards when he injured his ankle in the Bruins’ fourth game. He’s missed five of the last seven games and has only six carries for eight rushing yards in that time
– WR Devin Fuller, So.: His numbers weren’t too far off of Evans — 42 catches, 464 yards, four touchdowns.
– TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.: The 6-foot-3, 221-pound true freshman caught 15 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
– C Jake Brendel, So.: Two-year starter who earned Pac-12 honorable mention.
– OL Alex Redmond, Fr.: Another true freshman starter, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound former four-star recruit started every game at right guard.
Hundley has been remarkably efficient this year, completing 67.8 percent of his passes. His overall numbers are down, but his efficiency is up, even though he’s had to shoulder a much larger portion of the offense once running back Johnathan Franklin went to the NFL. UCLA has spread things around, too. In addition to Hundley, the Bruins had two other players run for at least 500 yards (Paul Perkins and James). They’ve averaged 4.5 yards and 196.6 rushing yards per game, despite a revolving tailback situation.
The Bruins have been better at protecting Hundley this season, but they’re still not great at it. Hundley was sacked 52 times lasts season, a number UCLA has trimmed to 34 so far this year. That ranks 107th nationally. The offensive line featured three true freshmen in the regular season finale against USC: left guard Scott Quessenberry, Redmond and right tackle Caleb Benenoch.
Best offensive showing
Relative to the competition, it was probably the Bruins’ 504-yard day in a 41-21 win at Nebraska. Hundley threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns as UCLA rallied from a 21-3 first-half deficit, scoring the game’s final 38 points. James ran for 105 yards and a touchdown and Evans had 97 receiving yards. Nebraska finished with the 36th-ranked defense nationally.
Worst offensive showing
Many teams have had bad offensive showings against Stanford, and UCLA was no different. The Bruins finished with only 266 yards in a 24-10 loss to the Cardinal. It was one of only two games this year in which they were held under 100 yards rushing. UCLA had just 74 yards on 27 carries and failed to score a rushing touchdown, the only time that happened this year. Hundley threw for 192 yards but was picked off twice.