Sports Illustrated cover boy Brett Hundley garnered much of the attention before the season, but it was UCLA’s defense that saved the Bruins from a loss in their opener.
Now Hundley and the Bruins are looking to get the offense on track following their disappointing showing as they try not to look ahead to an upcoming showdown.
Eleventh-ranked UCLA aims for its third 2-0 start under coach Jim Mora on Saturday night in its home opener against Memphis, which is coming off one of the best offensive outputs in school history.
The Bruins recorded three defensive touchdowns in the second quarter last Saturday before Hundley directed a critical second-half scoring drive to key a 28-20 victory at Virginia.
Senior linebacker Eric Kendricks finished with a game-high 16 tackles, a forced fumble that led to a 75-yard touchdown return and a 37-yard interception return for a TD.
Kendricks was named Pac-12 defensive player of the week and Walter Camp national player of the week for his role in the program’s first three-TD defensive performance since 1986.
“Kendricks flashed: he had a touchdown; he made some open field tackles,” said Mora, whose team nonetheless fell four spots in the poll after the tight victory.
The Bruins, who also limited the Cavaliers to 120 yards rushing, forced three turnovers twice all of last season. That certainly bodes well for a defensive unit that had some holes to fill following the loss of stars Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh to the NFL.
“Obviously, if you can stop the run and put the ball in the end zone three times on defense it’s a special day,” Mora said. “But, at the same time our standards are so high. I think that we can be a very, very good defense, but anything that we give up we are going to take it and dissect it.”
Before they can turn their attention to another difficult road test against Texas on Sept. 13, the Bruins will have to contain quarterback Paxton Lynch and offensively potent Memphis in Pasadena.
Lynch completed 20 of 27 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for two scores, to help the Tigers (1-0) cruise to a 63-0 victory over visiting Austin Peay last Saturday.
Freshman Jarvis Cooper needed eight rushing attempts to contribute 101 yards and a touchdown as Memphis tied a school record with seven TDs on the ground. The Tigers posted their highest point total since 1969.
“We have to put this one behind us,” said running back Brandon Hayes, who added 59 yards and a score on 11 attempts. “We play a great opponent. We’re going to have to focus and have a great week of preparation to get ready for UCLA.”
The Tigers look to build on their first shutout in 14 years as they try to win their first road opener in 10 seasons.
UCLA struggled throughout much of Saturday’s contest and did not have an offensive touchdown until Hundley’s six-yard scoring run with 1:02 remaining in the third quarter.
Hundley, widely regarded one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, was sacked five times after the Bruins entered the season with concerns about the offensive line in wake of center Jake Brendel’s knee injury.
They fumbled four times – losing two – and managed their fewest total yards (358) in seven contests.
“I think we may have come out there a little too juiced and had a lot of mental lapses and mental mistakes,” Hundley said. “We just have to fix them and come back next week and play a better game.”
The Bruins won’t have running back Steven Manfro available for the rest of the season after he tore his ACL in practice Tuesday. Part of a three-man rotation at the position with Paul Perkins and Jordon James, Manfro caught 37 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns over the last two seasons.
UCLA has never faced Memphis, but has won eight of nine non-conference home games.
The Tigers, seeking their first 2-0 start since 2004, have dropped 14 in a row against ranked opponents.