The trendy pick in the Pac-12 entering the season did little to match the hype in the first three games of the season, but that was not the case Thursday night. Yes, No. 11 UCLA’s defense gave up over 500 yards of offense to a team playing with a backup quarterback, but UCLA answered the call Thursday night in Tempe, Arizona. UCLA (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) went on a 42-3 run on No. 15 Arizona State (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) en route to a 62-27 victory in an early key Pac-12 South division game.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley started the game for the Bruins, returning from a shoulder injury suffered against Texas just fine. Hundley was sharp in the first half and managed to shrug off some early hits. He ended his night giving a reason to be brought back into the early Heisman Trophy conversation after passing for 355 yards and four touchdowns. Hundley also added 72 rushing yards and a touchdown. He did all of this with a brace on his left arm, but there was nothing slowing Hundley down on Thursday night.
Big plays were the recipe for a victory for the Bruins. Hundley completed an 80-yard touchdown to Eldridge Massington in the second quarter. It was Massington’s only catch of the game. The Bruins padded a first half lead with a 95-yard interception returned for a touchdown by Ishmael Adams just seconds before halftime. Immediately out of the halftime break, Hundley completed an 80-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton on the first play from scrimmage. Payton had 151 receiving yards and two touchdowns in this one. Adams added another big play with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown after Arizona State had scored a field goal in the third quarter.
UCLA also played a clean game in the turnover department. The Bruins did not have a turnover and the defense forced four turnovers by Arizona State’s offense. The Bruins gashed Arizona State’s defense for 228 rushing yards as well.
The Bruins defense still gave up plenty of yards (488 through the air) but as was the case in week one against Virginia, the defense managed to get their hands on the football often enough to overcome any threats by the Sun Devils.
The big tests for UCLA are still to come. The Bruins proved they can win a big game on the road, although it is worth noting Arizona State was without quarterback Taylor Kelly (Mike Bercovici played admirably though). The Bruins return home for a game against Utah next week, which sets up a potential Pac-12 Championship Game preview at home against Oregon. UCLA will get Stanford at home in the regular season finale on UCLA’s schedule, a week after hosting USC. It UCLA can prove capable of beating Oregon in two weeks, then the Bruins will be elevated to the role of Pac-12 favorite. Oregon and Stanford remain the hurdle to be leaped by the Bruins. The defense still needs to plug some holes though after allowing 622 yards.
As for Arizona State, the injury to Kelly had to be some sort of factor, but turnovers proved to be deadly on Thursday night. The Sun Devils should now be in serious risk of dropping out of the top 25 rankings on Sunday. Had they kept it close, they could manage to stay in, but being blown out the way they were at home has to be a tough pill to swallow in the eyes of the pollsters.