The expectations were so high for Brett Hundley coming into this season, nothing short of winning the Heisman would be considered a success. As a result, the nation probably didn't appreciate Hundley's game as much as it should have. And like many college players before him, the redshirt junior is off to the pros in a puff of smoke with only his stats and film to remember him by.
Hundley ended his UCLA career in style, showing off an arsenal of impressive plays as the Bruins held off a Kansas State comeback, 40-35, thanks in part to a 67-yard Paul Perkins touchdown with 2:20 to play in the Alamo Bowl in Friday. The Pac-12's leading rusher was named the game MVP after finishing with 194 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns.
UCLA's first drive perfectly demonstrated what Hundley brings to the table. He stepped up in the pocket on the first play of the game, shed Kansas State's pressure and delivered a first down strike. He ran a wrinkle option and passed a lateral to Devin Lucien for another big gain. He ended the drive with a 10-yard rush into the end zone, diving with a flourish to put UCLA up 7-0.
That kind of occasional brilliance created an undue pressure on Hundley. Coming off a Sun Bowl win over Virginia Tech last season in which he had 226 passing yards, 161 rushing yards and four total touchdowns, there was all sorts of Heisman Buzz. He’s consistently been overshadowed by Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and unfairly compared to the Ducks quarterback.
When Hundley didn’t live up to the comparison, people wondered why. They questioned his heart, his character, his passing ability or his awareness in the pocket.
All that wasted energy on trying to fit Hundley into some sort of box left people too exhausted to appreciate what he did do: Be one of the best quarterbacks in college football over the past three seasons. You want passing? Hundley had 3,155 yards and 22 touchdowns this year. Accuracy? He completed almost 70 percent of his passes. A running threat? How about 644 rushing yards and 11 scores.
Hundley ended his Bruins career with three total touchdowns against the Wildcats, looking comfortable and using the opportunity the same way a once-famous rock band does on tour, by playing some of his greatest hits. After Kansas State cut the lead to 31-21 in the third quarter, Hundley had a 40-yard run on third-and-11 to shake his team out of its funk. The Wildcats took the ball out of his hands for a majority of the second half, with UCLA managing just 9:32 in time of possession in the final two quarters.
It’s fair to criticize UCLA for its lack of consistency. The Bruins showed a propensity toward getting up in big games and losing focus in games in which they were big favorites. They struggled with a lofty preseason ranking, starting 3-0 with wins over Virginia, Memphis and Texas but looking shaky in the process.
Yet after a Thursday night 62-27 blowout win over Arizona State on Sept. 25, things seemed to be falling into place. Everything was going according to plan. Then back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon knocked the Bruins out of the playoff picture. UCLA rallied to win five straight to get to 9-2 heading into the final week of the season and would lock up the Pac-12 South if the Bruins could beat (then 6-5) Stanford.
But a 31-10 loss provided more disappointment and armed critics with one more thing to criticize in Hundley’s career.
An Alamo Bowl win isn’t a Playoff win or even a New Year’s Six win, but it’s nothing to scoff at. Brett Hundley leaves UCLA with a few school records, two bowl trophies and a whole bunch of wins.
UCLA is better than it was before Hundley got there. And whether he does what people think he should or not in the pros, he was always a fun player to watch in college. There aren’t enough of those guys out there in the first place. Maybe it’s time we stop breaking them down and take a second to enjoy them while we have the chance.