With Arizona State on the verge of one of the most important regular season games in program history, we figured it wouldn't hurt to get to know the UCLA Bruins extra well this week.
To feed your hunger for knowledge, we participated in a two-part Behind Enemy Lines with Bruins Nation. Although you may be thrown off by their aliases, these gentlemen run one of the finest UCLA sites in all the land. We strongly suggest you pay a visit if you're looking to learn more about those pesky Bruins.
Now, without further ado, here's our offensive-oriented portion of our Q&A:
Q: For those who have refused to watch him since he ripped out the hearts of Sun Devils everywhere last year, how has Brett Hundley evolved in his second season? Has he regressed in any aspects or is it all for the better?
IE Angel: The answers to this question depends on who you ask. He can make any throw on the field consistently, except for some struggles with deeper routes down the sideline. Routinely fits balls into tight windows and can make good coverage a non-issue with placement. Like any good quarterback, he gets away with a few questionable decisions on athleticism and talent. By necessity, he's had to evolve into perhaps the scariest scrambling quarterback in the country. In just 24 games as a starter, he's been pressured (hurried, sacked or knocked down) over 200 times, but has still rushed for over 500 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Very rare for him to ever go down on first contact, regardless of the size of the defender. He has lots of pocket presence in avoiding defenders, but he has a tendency to bail on the play right away to try and scramble when there is pressure instead of keeping his eyes downfield.
Bellerophon: He's definitely improved from last season although I'm not sure if that's because he's a year older and more experienced, because the offense as a whole is more rounded (and not totally reliant on Johnathan Franklin and Joe Fauria), or a combination of both. He's still not as sharp as I think he could be and while I know people project him as a first-round pick in the NFL Draft because of his huge upside, he's still very raw and not NFL-ready yet. If he sticks around for one more year in college, his projected development easily puts him in the Heisman conversation as a serious contender.
Q: After being tested with injuries, it seems the Bruins young offensive line has proved its depth and dependability in 2013. How do you see the battle of the trenches playing out?
IE Angel: The offensive line has become markedly more talented since Adrian Klemm was brought on board. The group is also absurdly young (true freshmen at right guard, left guard and right tackle), so mistakes happen in pass protection. There is a clear advantage for Arizona State in the matchup between UCLA's pass protection and ASU's pass rush. The run game is a closer matchup, and the return of a healthy Jordon James could be a big boost for the Bruins. The formation installed since the Arizona game that features up to 6 defensive players on offense at once (Cassius Marsh, Jordan Zumwalt, Brandon Willis, Kenneth Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes and Myles Jack) gets a ton of press, but is mainly a short yardage package. An extremely effective one, partially responsible for six touchdown drive in two weeks. I'm a big believer in the value of third down conversion rates, and this matchup features two highly efficient groups (UCLA converts 51.6%, 12th in the NCAA and ASU holds offenses to 34.8%, 28th in the NCAA). Whoever wins that battle, will be in a great position to come away with a victory.
gbruin: I think any unit going against Will Sutton will never be favored. The Bruins are so young on the offensive line, but they've at least had the benefit of playing several games together this season and they are improving week to week. The run game is still a work in progress, but pass blocking has been pretty solid. The future is bright for them, but I don't know that future begins this Saturday against a great ASU defensive unit.
Bellerophon: It's a very talented group, but one without much experience, so the Sun Devils will have a huge advantage in the trenches. I think the key is how Noel Mazzone adjusts to the fact that his QB is not going to have a lot of time in the pocket: if we can execute in those situations and hit guys on quick-hitting short routes to take away the pass rush, I think we have a real good chance.
Q: What has been your opinion of the Bruins run game this season? Will UCLA be able to take advantage of one of Arizona State's biggest weaknesses?
IE Angel: It has been an adventure. The rushing offense great-to-good for the first four games of the season, then hit a rough patch that coincided with the injury of Jordon James. The first sign of concern was UC Berkeley holding the Bruins to 78 yards rushing. Outside of Brett Hundley's scrambles, the running game has been hit and miss. Most of us on Bruins Nation have been trumpeting for more carries for Malcolm Jones (who had 30 yards rushing on the first three offensive snaps against Stanford and only touched the ball twice after that), but his status for this weekend is up in the air after a shot to the head against Washington. There is no group more plagued by injury for UCLA than the running back position this season. In addition to Jones, Damien Thigpen, UCLA's best runner outside of Jonathan Franklin in 2012, has never gotten close to 100%. James has been out for most of the last six weeks, Steven Manfro has been banged up for a few weeks. Only Paul Perkins has made it through unscathed. If James is close to 100% against the Sun Devils, 200 or more yards rushing is reasonable.
Bellerophon: Myles Jack is a freak of nature. It will be fun to watch him with the ball in his hands this weekend.
Q: Keeping in mind that we could easily have another shootout on our hands, what is your X-Factor for the Bruins offense?
IE Angel: I think that both defenses are better than the offenses that they will be facing and would project a lower scoring game. A shootout isn't out of the question though. There are a lot of options for the Bruins as an X-factor on offense: Myles Jack as the short yardage guy, Brett Hundley's play at QB, the pass blocking versus one of the better pash rushes in the conference. I'd go with the play at the WR spots. The likes of Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton, Devin Lucien and Thomas Duarte have had issues creating separation at times, but when they get open, the UCLA offense clicks.
gbruin: The X-Factor for the Bruins is the play calling, which puts the onus on your old friend Noel Mazzone. When Mazzone has been creative and spreads the ball around the field, including throwing down the middle of the field, the offense has really clicked. When Mazzone has calls for consecutive runs up the middle, the offense gets in third and long situations where Hundley hasn't looked as confident and the offense doesn't sustain drives.
Bellerophon: Myles Jack, need I say more?