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UCLA leans on defense in 28-20 win over Virginia

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It took some willpower from quarterback Brett Hundley -- and three touchdowns by the UCLA defense -- but the No. 7 Bruins escaped with a 28-20 win over Virginia on Saturday in a college football opener in Charlottesville, Va.

The Cavaliers were not supposed to be a particularly strong team. They were 2-10 last season when they finished 100th in the nation in scoring offense.

And against UCLA, they benched their starting quarterback before halftime. The backup who finished the game, sophomore Matt Johns, had never thrown a pass in a college game.

Johns completed 13 of 22 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns against the Bruins. 

UCLA was 20th in scoring offense last year and has a Heisman hopeful, Brett Hundley, at quarterback. The Bruins' offense finished with seven points, as Hundley completed 20 of 33 passes for 242 yards without a touchdown, and fumbed a couple of times.

But when UCLA needed him most, Hundley stepped up. He basically willed himself into the end zone on a quarterback draw late in the third quarter that put the Bruins ahead by 11 points. Late in the fourth quarter, up eight points, Hundley completed a 35-yard pass to effectively end the game.

UCLA's defense scored three touchdowns in the second quarter -- two interception returns and one fumble return. The last time a team had three defensive touchdowns in a single quarter was Eastern Carolina in 2009.

A big part of UCLA's problem on offense was that the Bruins missed injured center Jake Brendel, their most important offensive lineman. He’s still recovering from a sprained left knee, and the inexperience on the line without him showed. Hundley was sacked four times, and UCLA’s rushing game didn’t get off the ground until late in the third quarter.

But Virginia hasn’t beaten a team ranked in the Top 10 since October 2005, and couldn’t finish the upset. 

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That big stop? UCLA got it. On third-and-eight, Virginia completed a pass for 19 yards to get into the red zone, but then couldn't get another first down. On fourth down, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack came up with another big play to give his offense the ball back with a little over three minutes remaining in the game. 

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Running back Paul Perkins almost fumbled the ball deep in his own red zone, but the ball bounced right back into his hands. Then, on third down, a throw from Brett Hundley was tipped and nearly intercepted. Two plays that would have been disastrous for the Bruins. With six minutes left in the game, UCLA needs a big stop here. 

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Never mind, UCLA fans. This isn't the time to feel better. Ohio State is up 10 on Navy. 

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UCLA, 28, Virginia 20 (6:47 left in fourth quarter): Virginia quarterback Matt Johns got bailed out on a mediocre third-down pass by a UCLA pass interference call, which pushed the Cavaliers right on the brink of field-goal range. Instead of going for a 48-yard field goal, Virginia went for it on fourth-and-eight. Johns rifled a pass for a first down, which kept the Cavaliers offense alive. Virginia thought about going for it again, but instead took the field goal to make it a one-possesion game. 

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Virginia needed a stop, and they got it. UCLA wide reciever Jordan Payton got close to the first-down marker, but lost his balance and couldn't convert. Instead of attempting the 43-yard field goal, UCLA went for it on fourth down and fumbled the ball. It's the second time this game that Hundley has been hit and fumbled on fourth down. UCLA could have gone for the field goal with more than 10 minutes left in the game, but kicker Ka'imi Fairbalm missed a 44-yard field goal in the first quarter. 

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UCLA started off the fourth quarter with a big defensive stop, and then got a big third-down coverstion from Brett Hundley on a quarterback sneak on third-and-short. On the next play, he ran for 17 yards. UCLA has the ball close to field-goal range, and a touchdown here would pretty much seal it. 

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UCLA, 28, Virginia 17 (1:01 left in third quarter): Here's a sign of life from the UCLA offense. Running back Paul Perkins got UCLA close to field-goal range with a 16-yard run, then quarterback Brett Hundley threw a 25-yard strike to Thomas Duarte. UCLA scored its first offensive touchdown on the day with a six-yard touchdown off a quarterback draw from Hundley on third down to give the Bruins a bit of breathing room. 

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If it makes Bruin fans feel any better, UCLA isn't the only top team struggling. Ohio State is currently losing to Navy.

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On Brett Hundley's first quarterback keeper of the day, he picks up nine yards and a first down on a big offensive play. But he misfired badly on third down, and UCLA punts again with six minutes left in the third quarter. On the ground, UCLA has 29 total yards and is averaging 1.5 yards per carry. You don't need me to tell you that's not very good. 

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Just want to make this very clear: Virginia was 100th in the nation in scoring offense last year. It benched its quarterback before halftime. The backup who is now playing, Matt Johns, had never thrown a collegiate pass before Saturday. That offense has 17 points. 

UCLA was 20th in scoring offense last year and has a Hesiman hopeful at quarterback. That offense has 0 points. 

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UCLA, 21, Virginia 17 (11:44 left in third quarter): After UCLA couldn't convert on fourth down near midfield, Virginia took advantage of the good field position. Virginia running back Kevin Parks ripped a big gain on fourth down, and on third down, backup quarterback Matt Johns threw a perfect pass to the corner of the end zone. Darius Jennings went up and grabbed the ball, and we've got a football game. 

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Virginia went three-and-out on its first drive of the second half, and UCLA countered with a quicker offensive attack. Quarterback Brett Hundley completed two of three passes, but then running back Jordon James lost yards on third down. Head coach Jim Mora decided to go for it on fourth down, and Hundley got whacked and fumbled the ball. 

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UCLA, 21, Virginia 10 (halftime)

The score makes it seem like the UCLA offense is playing well.

It is not.

The Bruins offense has 137 yards and doesn't have a touchdown.

The UCLA defense has accounted for three touchdowns on two interception returns and a fumble return -- scoring plays that have covered a total of 132 yards.

Halftime adjustments are needed on offense, especially to free up quarterback Brett Hundley, who has been smothered behind poor offensive line play. 

The defense? It looks just fine.

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UCLA 21, Virginia 10 (0:52 left in second quarter): In a surprise move, Virginia replaced starting quarterback Greyson Lambert with backup Matt Johns, a sophomore who hadn't attempted a pass in his career.

The first pass of his career was long completion, and the second went 29 yards for a touchdown. That's a big play for Virginia, who will start the second half with the ball. The Cavaliers have outscored UCLA's offense, 10-0.

Sophomore Myles Jack limped off the field with what appeared to be cramps in his left leg. Again, the humidity is more than what most of these players are used to. 

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Here's something: UCLA has 21 points in the second quarter but also has 12 yards of offense. The score is a bit misleading. 

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UCLA 21, Virginia 3 (13:35 left in second quarter): You're kidding, right? UCLA has scored its third defensive touchdown of the second quarter, this time a pick-six from linebacker Eric Kendricks. Virginia is starting a sophomore with not much experience at quarterback, but still, three defensive touchdowns in one quarter is insane. 

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UCLA 14, Virginia 3 (2:55 left in second quarter): Another huge, huge play from UCLA's defense. Randall Goforth scooped up a fumble on the 22-yard line and was untouched the rest of the way down the field for the Bruins' second defensive touchdown of the game.

The drive was previously marked by mental mistakes. UCLA turned a Virginia third-and-12 to a third-and-7 because there were 12 men on the field.

On third down, Eric Kendricks got called for pass interference, UCLA's seventh penalty of the first half. Fortunately for the Bruins, another big play negated those mistakes. 

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A big part of UCLA's offensive issues stem from third-down conversions. The Bruins are 1-for-6 on third downs so far today, but converted 49.2% last year, good for No. 11 in the nation.

Today, UCLA has dealt with nothing but long conversions. On this drive, another false start forced the Bruins into a third and 14. A screen pass was short of the first down marker, and with 6:50 left in the second quarter, UCLA punted for the fifth drive in a row.

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UCLA 7, Virginia 3 (8:35 left in second quarter): Owamagbe Odighizuwa is pushing the Virginia offensive line around. He forced the interception earlier in the game, and almost forced Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert into another one on first down. But on third down, Virginia gained 27 yards on a Lambert pass, one of their biggest offensive plays of the game. A gain of 15 got Virginia close to the red zone, but Myles Jack got physical on a third-down pass. It could have been called for pass interference, but Virginia settled and got its first points of the game on a 35-yard field goal.

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Arguably UCLA's worst drive of the game. Another offensive penalty, a holding by wide receiver Devin Lucien, wiped out a nice run by Jordon James. Then, Steven Manfro dropped a pass that would have netted UCLA a first down, the Bruins' third drop of the game. Hundley was almost sacked, but got rid of the ball. Another UCLA punt. 

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Sophomore defensive lineman Kenny Clark looks good so far. He burst through the line of scrimmage to force a no-gain on second down, and Virginia couldn't convert on third down, again. Virginia's Greyson Lambert is doing his job, going 8 for 10 with a pick, but those eight completions have gone for just 42 yards. 

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UCLA 7, Virginia 0 (13:35 left in second quarter): UCLA can't get anything going on offense, so the defense stepped up instead. Owamagbe Odighizuwa tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage, and Ishmael Adams intercepted the pass for the pick-six and the first score of the game. Odighizuwa is a redshirt senior who missed all of last season recovering from hip injuries and has been talking all week about how excited he is to get back on the field again. Nice moment for one of UCLA's defensive leaders. 

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Sloppy drive to start the second quarter for UCLA. Running back Steven Manfro dropped a pass behind the line, didn't realize the ball was live, and lost three yards. Hundley then took his third sack of the game, and on third down, Eldridge Massington didn't turn around to find the ball on a good pass from Hundley.

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The first quarter ends with an 18-yard rush from Paul Perkins, but overall, a pretty dissapointing first quarter for the UCLA offense. Some of this could be nerves, or the early start, or the humidity, or...

Bottom line, the Bruins are going to need to get something going here. 

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The Cavaliers seem to be content with not attempting a play that will net them more than five yards. Virginia got close to field-goal range, but another short pass pushed them just out of range with less than a minute left in the first quarter. 

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UCLA's offensive line does not look good. A false start forced a third and 17 for the Bruins, and Hundley was hammered on the third-down throw. With two minutes left in the first quarter, another UCLA punt. 

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Four yards here, five yards there. UCLA is going for big plays early on, and Virginia is not. Not that it matters early, as the game remains scoreless. both teams are having issues getting something going on offense. UCLA cornerback Ishmael Adams returned a punt for a touchdown, but it was called back because Priest Willis' helmet came off. He tried to put it back on and continue playing, which has recently became a personal foul. Hard to say whether that's his fault or the coches, but a big error nonetheless. 

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The value of Hundley: He almost got sacked for an eight yard loss, but scrambled and lost just three yards. Those are the types of plays that won't show up on the stat sheet but are incredibly valuable in a scoreless game. On third down, Hundley threw a dart to Jordan Payton for a 16-yard gain, but a holding penalty from Alex Redmond on the next third down attempt brought the ball back. UCLA's offensive line ihas already allowed two sacks and isn't doing much to slow down Virginia's front seven. The Bruins are missing center Jake Brendel, who is out with a sprained left knee, more than they thought. 

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Virginia's first drive of the game didn't have the big play that UCLA had, and the Cavaliers didn't get into field goal range. A screen pass on third down netted Virginia a big first down, but they tried the same thing the next third down and it failed. The punt went into the end zone, and UCLA will start its second offensive possession on the 20 yard line. 

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At least for its opening series, UCLA is missing center Jake Brendel. On the first play of the game, it didn't matter. The protection was perfect for Hundley, who dropped a 48-yard pass to Eldridge Massington to start the game. If it wasn't for an tackle by the ankles, Massington would have scored. UCLA fizzled after that, though, and a third down pass from Hundley was tipped. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a 44-yard field goal, and UCLA got nothing out of the initial play. 

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Pregame: Good morning, Bruin fans. UCLA kicks off its season in about an hour, and we'll be updating you here. If you want more in-game anaylsis, follow our two writers on the scene in Charlottesville on Twitter: UCLA beat writer Chris Foster, @cfosterlatimes, and college football columnist Chris Dufresne, @dufresneLaTimes. I’ll also be tweeting, @everettcook, as will Mike Hiserman, @MikeHiserman. 

Before the game starts, here's some food for thought. This game is important for Brett Hundley in more ways than one. Obviously, because UCLA needs to win the game, but also because the redshirt junior quarterback is an early candidate to compete for the Heisman. This is the Bruins’ only East Coast game. A bad impression could mean a loss of votes down the line.

It’s also important because of a recent trend among Heisman winners. The last four have all been quarterbacks — Jameis Winston of Florida State, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, and Cam Newton of Auburn.

Most of their debuts have been spectacular. Winston had just two incompletions and threw for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Newton had five total touchdowns. Griffin threw for five scores. Manziel didn’t have the best game of his season, throwing for less than 200 yards and no touchdowns, but he also completed more than 75% of his passes.

The one commonality between the four quarterbacks? None had a pass intercepted.

Not saying that Hundley’s Heisman hopes are dashed with a pick, but it will be an interesting trend to keep an eye on. 

Pregame, 8:20 p.m.: The weather isn't too bad, at least right now. Our writers on the scene say that it's a little muggy, but overcast and cooler than Virginia usually is in August. 

Weather reports from Virginia show a high of a manageable 87 degrees, but the key here is the humidity. UCLA has been practicing in heat all summer, but California heat is a lot different than East Coast heat. The humidity percentage could get over 80% during the game. If it's overcast the whole game, though, that will help. 

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Center Jake Brendel, one of UCLA's most important offensive players, is dressed but not taking pre-game snaps with the first team as the redshirt junior continues to recover from a sprained left knee. Taking his place is sophomore Scott Quessenberry, who missed some time during training camp with a concussion. 

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