Any Texas Longhorns defenders hoping for a break from tackling big, strong, athletic quarterbacks will be in for a rude awakening on Saturday night in Arlington as they go against the UCLA Bruins and junior quarterback Brett Hundley.
A Heisman contender entering the season, Hundley hasn't done anything to discredit his campaign, developing rapport with his young receivers in a win against Virginia as he threw for 242 yards and then shredding the Memphis defense to the tune of 396 passing yards and three touchdowns on 33-of-44 passing. Throw in a big touchdown run against the Cavaliers and Hundley has been plenty productive through his first two games.
After comparing BYU quarterback Taysom Hill to Tim Tebow last week, Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford reached back for a former SEC foe he faced with Strong at Florida.
"The quarterback -- he reminds me a lot of Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers," Bedford said on Wednesday.
"Big, strong, athletic and -- I must admit -- one of the best arms that I have seen. I had the chance to go against [Detroit Lions QB Matt] Stafford when he was at Georgia, a first round pick for Detroit, [Ryan] Mallet at Arkansas. This kid [UCLA QB Brett Hundley] has that type of arm. The entire field is wide open. He could be on one hash and throw the out cut and, I'll tell you what, it looks like a bazooka. He's a special talent."
Considered a dual-threat quarterback out of high school when he was rated as a consensus four-star prospect, the 6'3, 227-pounder has similar dimensions to Hill, but his arm strength and overall understanding of the quarterback position surpasses that of his Cougar counterpart, even though Hill has narrowed the gap significantly over the last year as a passer.
From Chandler, Arizona, Hundley was the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the country and anointed by many as the eventual savior of the position when he arrived in Westwood in early 2012. Then head coach Rick Neuheisel and his staff kept a redshirt on Hundley even as the team stumbled to a 6-8 season with Kevin Prince and Richard Breuhart and got fired.
An early enrollee as well, the redshirt season helped Hundley develop as a quarterback. He beat out both of the older returning players and has started every game since.
His first play? A 72-yard touchdown run against Rice.
That's arriving on the scene quickly.
Ever since then, he's been setting UCLA records.
It's often said that the biggest growth for football teams come between the first and the second games. While that clearly wasn't the case for Texas against BYU last week, it was for Hundley and UCLA, at least according to Bedford. After struggling some with Virginia in the opener and still failing to put Memphis away, Bedford thought that Hundley started to get on the same page with his receivers after losing his top two targets from last season.
Sophomore wide receiver Thomas Duarte was honorable mention All-Pac-12 last season as a freshman and had four catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns against Memphis last weekend, including a 33-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that provided the final margin. He also added a 52-yard catch and at 6'3 and 223 pounds, he'll be a mismatch for the Texas defensive backs, especially when trying to tackle him in the open field.
A 2012 US Army All-American, junior wide receiver Jordan Payton may be starting to come into his own after finishing third on the team in receptions last year. Only two games into the season, the 6'1, 213-pounder has 15 catches for 202 yards, so he has a trust level with Hundley where the UCLA quarterback knows where his receiver is going to be.
So Hundley has some emerging weapons in the passing game, including sophomore wide receiver Eldridge Massington, who was an excellent deep threat for Chason Virgil at West Mesquite and has five catches on the season, including one for 48 yards.
Hundley also has the arm talent to reach those wide receivers in almost any part of the field, as he showed against Memphis last week when he hit wide receiver Kenneth Walker on a 62-yard touchdown pass that traveled most of that length in the air.
Hence the lofty comparisons to some of the NFL quarterbacks with the strongest arms in the league. On Wednesday, Bedford continued with his scouting report on Hundley.
"He's big; he's strong; he's athletic," said Bedford. "He has that type of arm. He makes plays with his legs but always looking down the field to throw the football. He is hard to corral and hard to tackle. He's a lot like [BYU QB Taysom Hill] from last week -- he's strong in the lower body. He looks to throw it more than he looks to run it. When he pulls it down now, I would have to say he's a 4.6 guy."
Besides lower-body strength, the biggest similarity between Hundley and Hill is their change-of-direction ability and overall elusiveness. For players with the size of linebackers, they are remarkably able to make defenders miss in the open field.
"Another strong runner for us, you're right, in Hundley," said Strong on Monday. "The thing about it, I think he threw for 396 yards against Memphis the other night and they beat them by seven. But a really strong runner, a really good football player, and he has enough wide receivers around him now, same thing, that we played a lot of man on Saturday here we just tried to just man up and just cover, and we did a pretty good job."
While conventional thinking goes that playing man coverage against quarterbacks with the ability to scramble can cause problems because the players in coverage turn their back, Strong noted that Texas played man against BYU and will likely continue to do so against Hundley on Saturday.
"Well, when you say is it true that you can't play man against a running quarterback, you can play man against a running quarterback because what you're doing is you're taking away the throws on the wide receivers; you're not giving him the alleys to throw the ball. But if you load the box enough, you can play man coverage against a running quarterback."
So expect the Texas defensive philosophy to mirror those thoughts from Strong. And the defense run by Strong and Bedford is an aggressive one that features a significant amount of blitzing and mixing coverages, a fact that won't change on Saturday against the Bruins.
"We're going to have to mix it up with some zone and man, but just try to get him off balance and making sure that we blitz him," Strong said. "We have to go attack him and we have to go blitz, what you call the blitz, and guys got to hit their gaps and be gap sound and have gap integrity, and we didn't get that done the other night."
As with most quarterbacks, getting defenders into their face quickly can force some bad decisions.
Memphis blitzes two on this play in the fourth quarter last week and gets a free defender on Hundley quickly.
The UCLA star and Heisman contender stares down his wide receiver, to the extent that there's a linebacker in the middle of the field who almost gets there as well. A Memphis defensive back reads Hundley's eyes, too, jumps the route, and evens the game with a big play.
The big concern is Hundley taking off running against a depleted back seven that just decreased its numbers by sending one or two players towards the quarterback.
Against quarterback Taysom Hill and the Cougars, the Horns weren't always able to maintain gap integrity to keep Hill in the pocket, even in situations where Texas only rushed four players. Bedford said that his defense missed six sacks of Hill, which may have included the touchown run early in the third quarter that featured Hill hurdling Texas sophomore safety Dylan Haines before he found the end zone after he escaped senior defensive end Cedric Reed in the backfield.
And make no mistake, Hundley provides a significant running threat when the pocket breaks down, which it has tended to do quite often in the last several years. In fact, since becoming the starter for the Bruins, he's been sacked 96 times in 29 games behind leaky UCLA lines.
Besides showing a willingness to keep his eyes downfield when scrambling to run, Hundley is also capable of lightning-quick decision-making when deciding whether to run or pass.
With the narrow 21-17 lead over Virginia on the road during the season's first game, the Bruins were looking for a momentum-swinging touchdown after converting a 3rd and 8 with a Hundley pass to sophomore wide receiver Eldridge Massington.
Based on the blocking of the offensive line, this is a pure pass call on 3rd and goal from the six, but when Hundley sees a blitzing defender leave the middle of the field open, he instantly hits the crease in front of him and trucks a Virginia safety.
Actually, just saying "a Virginia safety" doesn't cover it, because that's 6'2, 215-pound freshman safety Quin Blanding, who was rated as the No. 6 prospect in the country coming out of high school by the 247Sports Composite. A year from now, maybe Blanding makes that tackle as he fills out and begins to fulfill his potential, but the point here is that Hundley ran over and dragged a potential NFL safety into the end zone there.
There's the strong lower body on display.
In total, Hundley racked up 584 scrambling yards in his first two seasons, a number that trailed only Johnny Manziel for Power 5 quarterbacks. Adding in the 500 or so rushing yards that Hundley lost from his stats and subtracting the scrambling yards means that he ran for roughly 1,000 yards over two seasons on called running plays.
In other words, he's dangerous like Hill on the zone read, too.
This is as basic as it gets on the zone read and while it doesn't take as much feel for the play as, say, the speed option does (looking at you, Colt), not every quarterback has the right sense of how to manipulate defenders and when the pull the ball.
On this play against Virginia after his touchdown run, Hundley fakes out the camera and the Virginia defense, allowing the the defensive end to crash all the way into the running back before pulling the ball out the last moment.
After facing a quarterback last week who now presents a much more multi-dimensional threat than last year, Texas will now face a quarterback with a stronger arm and all of the running and scrambling ability provided by Hill.
Strong and his defensive staff will likely rely on another man-heavy approach hoping for better gap integrity from the defensive line and better overall finishing ability, while facing a difficult decision about whether to crash down on Hill and hope the linebackers can avoid the type of disastrous indecision that characterized the third quarter against BYU.
If the Horns fail, even just for one stretch of a quarter, Hundley and the Bruins have the ability to make the Horns pay with another humiliating defeat.