UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley (17) leads running back Johnathan Franklin… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
The mutual admiration society in Westwood thrives these days.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley finds joy in putting the ball in running back Johnathan Franklin's hands. "Sometimes I'll hand off, do little quick fake, then turn and watch him run," Hundley said.
Franklin loves watching Hundley on film, viewing him as a combination action star and comedian. "I always laugh at him when he tries to hurdle people or when he dives around; it's hilarious," Franklin said, adding, "What he does on Saturdays is amazing."
UCLA is averaging 514 yards and 37 points a game, and the Hundley-Franklin duo is what makes the Bruins dynamic.
Hundley, a redshirt freshman, is dangerous whether throwing or running. But teams cannot ignore Franklin, a senior who has toppled UCLA's career rushing record and is averaging 133.8 yards a game this season.
Pick your poison.
"To be a good team you really have to have all the parts, but the most important part is your quarterback," former UCLA coach Terry Donahue said. "Brett Hundley is an exceptional quarterback. If Johnathan Franklin wasn't back there, UCLA would be one-dimensional. You've got to have a back like that to take the pressure off the quarterback."
Franklin has provided Hundley room to grow. Hundley has provided Franklin room to run.
"If we don't run the ball well, all the onus is on Brett," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "He has to make every throw, make every play."
A lot remains on Hundley's shoulders, even though he has played only nine college games. Or, as cornerback Aaron Hester joked Wednesday, "Obama is the president and Brett Hundley is the quarterback."
Hundley understands the advantages of having Franklin on his ticket.
"Sometimes I'll be in the backfield and say, 'Hey man, I'm just going to give you the ball no matter what the defense does. Run with it,' " Hundley said "Having a guy like him back there takes a lot of stress out of the passing game."
The Bruins have had prolific tandems before: Drew Olson and Maurice Jones-Drew in 2005; Cade McNown and Skip Hicks in 1997; Tommy Maddox and Kevin Williams in 1991; Troy Aikman and Gaston Green in 1987; and John Sciarra and Wendell Tyler, who led the Bruins to the 1976 Rose Bowl.
Where Hundley and Franklin rate in that group is open for debate. But they are likely to become only the second UCLA quarterback-running back duo to top 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. McNown threw for 3,116 yards and Hicks ran for 1,282 in 1997.
Franklin, who is fourth nationally in rushing, is already there. His 1,204 yards this season give him 3,873 for his career. He broke Gaston Green's career record with a 37-yard touchdown run last week against Arizona.
"That was crazy," Hundley said "It was a beautiful thing to watch him run."
Hundley has thrown for 2,478 yards and is 24th nationally in passing efficiency, fourth in the Pac-12.
"You could see it in training camp," Franklin said. "Every night he was working to understand the pass coverage; what our defense was doing."
Hundley and Franklin are responsible for 35 of the 41 touchdowns by UCLA's offense. Franklin has eight rushing. Hundley has thrown for 21 and run for six.
"You have a running back who can hurt you with screens and draws; you can't come with a blitz all the time," Donahue said. "The defense has to play honest."
Franklin and Hundley realize their importance to each other.
"Brett will start telling me, 'I'm just going to throw the ball all game,' and I'll say, 'I'm not going to block nobody,' " Franklin said. "He's like my little brother."
The relationship plays out that way. Both carry equal weight in the offense, but Franklin is buying Hundley time.
"Any time you can run the ball successfully, it's going to take the pressure off Brett," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. "He doesn't have to go win it for us."
The best example of that was against Arizona State. Hundley drove the Bruins for a game-winning field goal in a 45-43 victory — when "some of the best plays on that drive were runs by Johnathan," Mora said.
It's a partnership.
Said Franklin: "We trust each other."