ASU's defensive challenge vs. UCLA starts with QB Hundley
NOV 20, 2013 3:28p ET
"We have to respect the fact that they have a great quarterback," linebacker Chris Young said.
"They've got a really good, dynamic quarterback," cornerback Osahon Irabor added.
As those opinions confirm, quarterback Brett Hundley more than anyone else powers UCLA's offense with a dual-threat capability that has the Sun Devils' attention first on shutting down the sophomore signal caller.
"We cannot let him get comfortable," ASU coach Todd Graham said. "Obviously, your whole game plan is always designed around their best players and stopping them, so with their offense you have to start with him.
"He is the key to their whole offense working."
Hundley, who grew up about 10 minutes from Sun Devil Stadium and played at Chandler High School, is the Bruins' leading rusher with 502 yards on the season. He ranks second in rushing among Pac-12 quarterbacks with 50.2 yards per game, behind only Arizona's B.J. Denker.
It's Hundley's mobility that comes up first when Graham or defensive players discuss the challenge of limiting Hundley. ASU has played a couple mobile quarterbacks this season but none as capable a rusher as Hundley.
"The thing that can hurt a defense most is a quarterback out of the pocket, one that can scramble," Young said. "We have to stop his movement, obviously, outside the pocket. We've got to corral him from the outside in and keep him contained."
It's not just designed quarterback keepers that worry ASU, though. Perhaps more worrisome is Hundley's ability to tuck and run when a pass play doesn't develop as expected.
"Extending plays is the major deal with him," Graham said. "He's just so hard to get a hold of and bring down in the pocket."
Hundley and ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly at times draw comparisons for their similar ability to hurt the opposition with their legs. But for as much attention as Hundley gets for his rushing ability, his arm quietly has caught up this season.
Hundley says UCLA's offense was "a little basic" last season as he learned the ropes as a redshirt freshman. Hundley often had to simply dump the ball off on a screen play and let a receiver or running back do the work. Now, Hundley is at least meeting them halfway.
"I feel like it's just developing as a quarterback," Hundley said. "This year it's more me dropping back, going through everything, reading defenses and really maturing as a quarterback and understanding what we're trying to do."
Graham has preached both threats to his defense this week.
"He's got a big arm and can throw the ball," Graham said. "He's a guy that can really extend plays with his legs and hurt you throwing the football."
Hundley ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in passing, with 238.4 yards per game but is third in efficiency and is tied with Oregon State's Sean Mannion for the league's best completion percentage (67.8).
With Hundley at the helm, UCLA appears to be the best offensive team ASU will have faced this season.
"There's a lot of good offenses, man," Graham said. "They're just very different. I think this is one of the better ones at the top. If you asked me as far as athleticism, system, I think Oregon's probably up there, Stanford's on the other end of the spectrum -- equally as difficult but just different -- and as far as the spread teams I would say Oregon and UCLA are the two toughest. And what makes that is the two guys that take the snap."
Again, the conversation works its way back to Hundley.
UCLA ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in total offense at 457.8 yards per game but is third in scoring, behind ASU and Oregon, at 37 points per game. The good news for the Sun Devils: Their defense is playing the best it has all season.
In the last three games, ASU held opponents to 128.3 fewer yards than they averaged entering the contest, including 93.6 fewer passing yards on average. Those opponents averaged 19.0 points against the Sun Devils.
The defense will have to be at its best again this week to deal with Hundley -- not to mention emerging linebacker/running back Myles Jack.
"Every week is a big test in our journey to the Rose Bowl, to the Pac-12 championship game," Young said. "The main thing is just coming out and focusing and being determined and focused on our goal. Right now, UCLA is in our way."
--ASU linebacker Viliami Moeakiola remains limited in practice as he continues to deal with a knee injury suffered against Utah two weeks ago. His status against UCLA remains unclear.
--After a sideline argument with Graham and subsequent benching against Oregon State, linebacker Carl Bradford has practiced normally this week.