80th ANNUAL HYNUDAI SUN BOWL
#17 UCLA Bruins (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4)
PLACE: Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, December 31, 11:00 a.m. PT
TV: KCBS Channel 2 (in the SoCal area)
LINE: UCLA by 7
ALL-TIME SERIES: This is the first meeting between the Bruins and the Hokies
HOW THEY GOT HERE: UCLA finished second in the Pac-12 South, while Virginia Tech finished tied for second in the ACC Coastal Division
Forget the victory over USC in their house; this is the most important game that these UCLA Bruins will play in these past two years.
And not just because a 10-3 record would look a heck of a lot better than a 9-4 mark, as Jim Mora’s team has an opportunity to finish the season with ten wins for the first time since 2005.
Which incidentally is the last time the Bruins spent their postseason down in the west Texas town of El Paso for the Sun Bowl.
The biggest reason why this match against Virginia Tech’s Hokies from Blacksburg is so important is this simple fact:
A win will legitimize and solidify the progress that UCLA has made in football during the two years of Mora’s tenure.
In other words, if the Bruins stumble and lose this game, everything that they did during the 2013 campaign will mean nothing.
Just like last season, when they lost their last three contests after defeating the Trojans.
For UCLA to get that tenth win, Brett Hundley and the rest of the Bruin offense must execute and perform against a Virginia Tech defense that’s ranked fourth in the nation overall, giving up but 103.8 rushing yards and 165.8 passing yards per game.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback had another very good season in Westwood as he led the team in both passing and rushing, throwing for 2,845 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 587 yards and nine scores, which likewise leads the team.
Looking at his numbers, it’s obvious to anyone that Hundley is – quite simply – the man; as he goes, so goes the UCLA offense.
Which will be challenged by the Hokie defense, which has five players with at least ten tackles for loss and three guys with at least five sacks.
Defensive tackle Luther Maddy leads Virginia Tech’s front seven with 11.5 TFLs and 6.5 sacks, while linebacker Jack Tyler’s 93 tackles lead that maroon-and-orange squad.
Their secondary is a good one as well with Kendall Fuller, the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, picking off six passes to lead the Hokies while Brandon Facyson is right behind him with five interceptions.
The Bruins’ young offensive line will need to have a great day against those Virginia Tech defenders, if Paul Perkins, Jordon James, and Myles Jack – who made history by being the first Pac-12 player ever voted Freshman of the Year on offense and defense – are to get decent yardage and if Hundley is to avoid getting sacked multiple times.
If not, I shudder at what may happen.
As for the Bruin defense, it may not have the gaudy numbers and ranking of their Hokie counterparts.
However, despite the fact that their leading tackler, linebacker Eric Kendricks, will not play due to surgery on his right ankle, judging by the fact that Virginia Tech’s offense has had problems and their leading rusher, Trey Edwards, is out with a broken leg…
It would be a nasty shock if Anthony Barr and the rest of his defensive mates have too much trouble with coach Frank Beamer’s offense.
Logan Thomas’ 2,861 passing yards may be slightly more than Hundley’s, but his 57.3% completion percentage and 13 interceptions are worse than Hundley’s 67.8% and nine picks.
And in an illustration of how anemic their running game is, Thomas’s 295 yards was second on the team.
With the guy with the most rushing yards, Edwards, out.
Their rushing average is but 117.8 a contest, so I’ll expect Thomas to try to beat UCLA with his arm, using Willie Byrn (a team-leading 49 catches) and Demitri Knowles (43 catches) to try and put points on the board.
If Barr, whose 20 tackles for loss and ten sacks not only earned him All-American honors but have led some pundits to say that he might be the first defensive player taken in the 2014 NFL draft, as well as defensive end Cassius Marsh (10.5 TFLs, six sacks), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (83 tackles, 2nd on the team) and Jack (70 tackles at linebacker) do their thing, the Bruins should be fine.
Being that Virginia Tech went 2-3 after a 6-1 start, most folks predict a Bruin victory. But…
Mora and company can ill afford to let down or suffer any hangover effects, and as they are motivated to get that tenth win after getting whipped by Baylor in last year’s Holiday Bowl, I expect this team to come out strong.
For the record, as a matter of interest:
– This will be UCLA’s 33rd bowl game, and they will be going for their 15th post-season win.
– Virginia Tech has only one player from California, long snapper Joe St. Germain from Los Alamitos and Santa Ana’s Mater Dei High School.
– Not only will this be the first time that these two schools will meet in football, it will mark only the third time that the Bruins and Hokies will have met in any sport as the softball teams have split their two games.