UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley didn’t burst into this season with a long touchdown run on the first play.
He waited until the eighth play.
The No. 21 Bruins entered the 2013 season with high expectations and with their first appearance in a preseason poll since 2007.
Yet they waited until the second half before putting away a pesky Nevada team.
The 58-20 victory in the Rose Bowl on Saturday was a start. The start of what? Well, for that answer, Bruins fans will have to wait.
But like last season, Hundley insisted that UCLA hit the season running.
He announced himself to the college football world last season with a 72-yard touchdown run on the first play in a victory over Rice. He reminded everyone of his presence Saturday.
Hundley’s 37-yard touchdown run in the first quarter got things started against Nevada. By the time he was finished, the only quarterback questions remaining were across town at USC.
“It looked like he is actually breathing on plays instead of holding his breath like last year,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “Last year, he was just running the plays I called. This year he is understanding. He’s asking for things. He’s seeing things. That’s pretty cool.”
The Bruins have some growing to do elsewhere, a lot of it before going to Lincoln to face Nebraska on Sept. 14. But the one thing that will make Coach Jim Mora snooze like a child at night is Hundley.
If last season’s opener was a coming-out party, Saturday’s performance was almost a coronation.
Hundley completed 22 of 33 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns. He gained an additional 63 yards rushing. He had 337 of UCLA’s 647 total yards.
“It there’s one place you want to have some security, it’s at quarterback,” Mora said. “It is so different than last year, when he was so much an unknown. There’s an intensity about him. He just really wants to be a great player. You've got to love it.”
Other areas of the team still have questions.
The Bruins’ rebuilt secondary looked vulnerable at times. The defense, as a whole, bent far too easily in the first half, though Nevada was unable to cash in its opportunities to the fullest.
The question of whether the Bruins had a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin was closer to being answered. Jordon James had 155 yards rushing, including a 26-yard touchdown run, with an array of zigzag runs worthy of his nickname “Joystick.” UCLA had 345 yards rushing.
Whether the Bruins have a punter to replace Jeff Locke remained a mystery. Freshman Sean Covington never got a chance to kick.
There are no issues at quarterback.
“If people thought [Hundley] was good last year, they’re in for a huge surprise,” receiver Shaquelle Evans said.
How much better can he be? Hundley set a school record with 3,740 yards passing and tossed 29 touchdown passes in 2012.
“That guy worked harder during the off-season than I have seen anyone work,” Evans said. “He’s quicker, more experienced, smarter. He understands the offense better. He understands defenses better. He’s going to have a huge year.”
Hundley certainly gave that indication Saturday.
He tossed a five-yard touchdown pass to Evans in the first half and flipped a screen to Malcolm Jones, who dodged defenders on a 25-yard touchdown play. But what makes Hundley dangerous is his running ability. Besides his 37-yard touchdown run on UCLA’s first series, he had an 11-yard scoring run, in which he dived the last three, to give the Bruins a 24-13 lead at the start of the third quarter.
“It feels like I see more of the field instead of zooming in on one receiver,” Hundley said. “I see what the defense is doing.”
Said Evans, “He’s only going to get better.”
UCLA gave up 353 yards and was dinged by Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo.
But the Wolf Pack had trouble closing drives. Twice in the first half Nevada was within reach of the end zone and had to settle for Brent Zuzo field goals. Fajardo’s one-yard touchdown run allowed the Wolf Pack to go into halftime trailing by only four points, 17-13.
Hundley’s second rushing touchdown was followed by another UCLA score. Kenny Orjioke blocked a punt and Phillip Ruhl returned it four yards for a touchdown.
The Bruins began to roll. Hundley’s momentum was already underway.
Said Mazzone, “Shoot, I thought he did all right.”
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