Brett Hundley, UCLA struggle to get past Virginia in opener


This was supposed to be UCLA's year, a time for the Bruins to live up to big expectations.

If they play like they did on Saturday, though, it will be a long year for them.

UCLA struggled on its cross-country trip to play Virginia, narrowly escaping with a 28-20 win after the team's offense struggled early and often.

Star quarterback Brett Hundley did not have a great day in Charlottesville, looking frustrated in an often-collapsing pocket. The Heisman hopeful had just 242 yards on 20-for-33 passing while failing to throw for a touchdown. He added 39 yards on the ground and ran for the offense's only touchdown against the Cavs' defense.

Most of Hundley's struggles can be traced to his offensive line. With key starters at center and left tackle out for the opener, the offensive line struggled against Virginia's front seven and was often seen losing one-on-one battles. The inability to get any push created problems in the running game (3.0 yards per carry on 39 attempts) and forced Hundley to get rid of the ball quickly.

Were it not for UCLA's three first-half defensive touchdowns, this was easily a game UCLA could have lost. Virginia coach Mike London also could have gone to backup quarterback Matt Johns earlier in the game after Greyson Lambert struggled in the first quarter.

Still, Hundley kept the offense in the game. A nine-play, 66-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter ended up being the nice cushion the Bruins needed. Hundley completed two lengthy passes and ended up scrambling for the touchdown while pulling a defender with him to the goal line.

It almost looked like the first half was designed to keep Hundley in the pocket and out of the running game. With a narrow lead at halftime, that plan seemed to be scrapped and he ran more to help the team pull out the win.

Another issue for Hundley -- he didn't get much help from his wide receivers. Between dropped passes and bad routes, finding a reliable option downfield was somewhat tough against a quality Cavaliers secondary with a few NFL draft prospects.

It wasn't the sharpest performance by Hundley and UCLA to open the season, but it should provide the team with a wake-up call that things won't be a cakewalk this year after all that offseason praise. The offensive line has to improve significantly and Hundley should continue to progress as a passer if his protection improves.

The good news is the Bruins notched a win far away from the confines of Los Angeles. The bad news might be that future Pac-12 opponents have plenty to take away from the contest that could be used to foil UCLA down the road.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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