2013 SEASON RECORD:
6-3 and second place in the Pac-12 South
Beat Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl, 42-12
Finished 16th in the nation in both the AP and USA Today polls
The best news for UCLA Football and Bruin Nation in 2013 came not in the form of the Bruins beating USC for the second year in the row.
Nor did it come when coach Jim Mora signed a contract extension to keep him in Westwood through 2019.
Or even when they walloped Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Though those were all great things that were accomplished, the best news coming out of UCLA happened on January 6, when Brett Hundley announced that he would forgo the NFL Draft – where he was pegged as a first round pick – and stay a Bruin for his junior season in 2014.
It was quite the safe bet that everyone in the UCLA community was ecstatic over that announcement, as if there was anyone in the Pac-12 Conference more valuable to his team than the redshirt sophomore quarterback was to the Bruins, I would very much like to meet him.
What else could I say considering that Hundley led the team in rushing with 748 yards and 11 touchdowns as well as passing, being an ultimate dual threat behind center.
Hundley’s 3,071 yards and 24 scores in the air were obviously outstanding, but the fact that he was just as dangerous with his legs as with his arm in being accountable for 3,819 total yards (at 293.8 yards per game) illustrates how crucial he was to UCLA’s success.
The Morgan Center certainly acknowledges this, as they have already started a “Hundley 4 Heisman” campaign to try to get UCLA their first Heisman Trophy winner since Gary Beban in 1967.
Not that the Bruins were a one-man show, as nothing could be further from the truth.
MANY Bruins greatly contributed to a season that outdid 2012 as the schedule was tougher and the team persevered and won more games – ten to be precise, the first time that has happened since 2005.
Let’s just tackle some of them:
If Anthony Barr is not taken in the first round of the NFL Draft this coming April, then that draft is nothing but a sham as the senior linebacker was the beast of UCLA’s defense with his 20 tackles for loss and ten sacks, which easily led the team in both categories.
And Jordan Zumwalt finished second on the Bruins with 93 tackles as only Eric Kendricks‘ 106 was better; who will ever forget that vicious hit on Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas in the Sun Bowl that knocked the Hokie quarterback out of the game and was one of the turning points of that contest?
All four of those guys are seniors who will be missed, but not as much as some think as there are a lot of key players returning, starting with this one:
Myles Jack was truly a “Jack Of All Trades” in 2013, the freshman not only making a big impact at linebacker with his 75 tackles, seven of them for loss, but also on the offensive side of the ball.
Starting with the Arizona game on November 9, Jack was placed at running back by Mora for certain situations, and proceeded to go off with a 66-yard run for a touchdown, helping to beat the Wildcats in Tucson with 120 yards on only six carries.
He averaged 7.0 yards a pop and scored seven touchdowns on the ground, second only to Hundley, and more than deserved the distinction of being the first player to ever win the Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year Awards.
Although I personally prefer that Jack’s primary position remain at linebacker to prevent the possibility of injury, I’m sure I speak for all Bruin fans when I say that everyone in Westwood is excited that Jack is returning for at least two more years.
Ishmael Adams is another underclassman who made a big impact as the sophomore not only led the team in interceptions, he also became the man at returning kicks, among other things going for 130 yards against USC and establishing himself as a real threat.
And Paul Perkins is one of a stable of Bruin running backs returning, the freshman having a solid rookie year with his six touchdowns. Jordon James and Steven Manfro will also be counted upon in that backfield.
Shaquelle Evans was great in leading UCLA’s receivers with 47 catches and nine touchdowns as a senior, but Devin Fuller (43 catches) and Jordan Payton (38 catches) will more than carry the slack in 2014.
The most impressive instance of perseverance came in the form of the Bruins’ offensive line, as three true freshman started there for half the season due to injuries by Torian White and Simon Goines.
Though there were a few rough spots, Caleb Benenoch, Scott Quessenberry, and Alex Redmond did quite well at protecting Hundley and opening holes, particularly at the end of the season as they wore down a Virginia Tech defense that was ranked 4th in the country.
That marks an extremely bright future for that group, so much so that I’m sure that Xavier Sua-Filo considered that when he announced that unlike Hundley, he was going pro.
One turning point in the season was in Lincoln, NE on September 14, when UCLA played a tough Nebraska team following the tragic death of Nick Pasquale a week earlier.
It’s always hard to play any kind of game after a beloved teammate and friend gets killed, but the Bruins, after falling behind 21-3 in the second quarter, exploded in scoring the next 35 points to put the Cornhuskers away.
That became a catalyst for the rest of 2013 as they dedicated the rest of the season to the walk-on receiver.
In fact, as was said before 2013 was better than 2012 in many ways for UCLA’s football team.
With Hundley returning and so many young players getting valuable experience – and playing well to boot – the Bruins will most assuredly start 2014 among the nation’s top ten teams in the polls, if not the top five.
And will be among the ones talked about for a possible spot as one of the four teams in the new College Football Playoff, which will take the place of the BCS as there will finally be a playoff to determine the national champion in Division 1 FBS football next fall.
If everyone stays healthy and plays to their potential, great things – things that UCLA has not seen on the football field in decades – are certainly possible.
All that needs to be done is for those Bruins to do the following:
1. Work their tails off
2. Stay humble
3. Stay hungry, and..
4. Stay focused