Each week of the football season, Bevo Beat will interview a reporter who covers Texas’ upcoming opponent. Ryan Kartje, UCLA beat writer for the Orange County and L.A. Register, answered five questions about the Bruins. No. 12 UCLA is a 7.5-point favorite over the 1-1 Longhorns. Kick off is set for 7 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Q: UCLA is 2-0 but has struggled in wins over Virginia and Memphis. Are the Bruins a good team that needs to work through minor issues or are they a flawed bunch that could underachieve this season?
A: I think they’re still a good team, but the question now is how good. Expectations of a national championship might’ve been premature; nearly blowing their first two games against less-than-stellar opponents like Memphis and Virginia should be enough to slow that bandwagon. However, this is still a team with a potential Heisman candidate in Brett Hundley at quarterback and a litany of open-field playmakers surrounding him. There’s also plenty of future NFL talent on defense — Myles Jack, Kenny Clark, and Eddie Vanderdoes, to name a few — so the defense’s underachieving last week shouldn’t last long. UCLA coach Jim Mora had a sense of urgency to him this week that he didn’t last week, so things may start to work into place in the next few weeks — maybe even this week in Dallas.
Q: Texas’ defensive line is very good and very deep, rolling through two guys at every position. What’s your feeling on the quality of UCLA’s offensive line?
A: There isn’t much optimism up front for UCLA, even after coaches spent the entire offseason talking about the unit’s improvements. Getting center Jake Brendel back from injury last week made a marked difference, but this is still a line that has given up nine sacks in two games and 88 in the two seasons prior. Against a solid Virginia defensive line, the group was a mess, and Hundley was never able to gain his composure. If Texas can do that, it might be a long day for UCLA. But to counteract the iffy line, expect UCLA to come out with a lot of short, quick passes to get the offensive rhythm going. If they can do run those plays successfully, then the line might not look as bad as it has in recent weeks. Still, the play up front is clearly Texas’ biggest advantage.
Q: Along that line, how mobile is Hundley? We know he can throw all over defenses (396 yards against Memphis) but how does he handle defensive pressure?
A: Hundley is a really impressive improviser — it’s one of his best traits — and he routinely breaks tackles when he tucks and runs. You’re not going to get him down with one guy very often. But when it comes to dealing with the pressure by keeping his eyes downfield and stepping up in the pocket for a throw, he’s still a work in progress. He can be rattled, as was evidenced by the Virginia game, and if he’s not confident in his line, then he’ll take off and run too quickly or take unnecessary sacks. This week will be a big test for him, in terms of keeping his composure.
Q: UCLA is always going to be a basketball school, but how would you gauge fan interest in the football program since Mora came on board and the Bruins started competing for Pac-12 titles?
A: Honestly, I’m confident in saying now that UCLA is currently a football school, with everyone around here jumping on the bandwagon. Mora has clearly ignited the fanbase, and for the first time in a long time — probably since Cade McNown was quarterback — UCLA is very excited about football. It certainly helps to have a team with a potential Heisman winner at quarterback and potential national championship expectations. The fanbase is still a fickle one — it’s in Los Angeles, after all — but there’s a clear dedication to the team this year, and a lot of people are excited about the future, even after this season. Fundraising is up exponentially, and UCLA answered Mora’s call by moving along plans for a state-of-the-art practice facility, which should help solve the problems posed by UCLA’s currently mediocre athletic facilities. Maybe it won’t last for long, but Mora has more people talking football than basketball around these parts.
Q: Does this feel like a road game for UCLA being that it’s played in the state of Texas?
A: Definitely. UCLA should have a decent showing of fans on Saturday, but it won’t be anywhere close to what Texas shows up with. Even with the excitement surrounding the team, the fanbase has never been known for traveling. This is clearly a neutral site game in title only; though, I’m not sure how much that’ll affect things on Saturday. Playing in a huge NFL stadium like AT&T will certainly be a thrill in a way that playing in a strict road environment wouldn’t be. Plus, there are a handful of important contributors on the roster that come from Texas, so they should have plenty of motivation. But calling this a neutral site game is otherwise pretty laughable.
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