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For Brett Hundley, it's a well-coordinated effort

Much credit for the UCLA quarterback's strong play is given to his relationship with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. The Bruins face formidable Stanford on Saturday.

November 23, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 234 yards and ran for two touchdowns against USC at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Nov. 17, 2012.
UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 234 yards and ran for two… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

The relationship between UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is developing quite nicely.

"The last couple weeks he has been coming off the field yelling at me," Mazzone said. "I like it when my quarterbacks yell, 'What are you calling?' Johnny Unitas said you don't become a real quarterback until you tell your quarterback coach, 'Go to hell.' Brett is starting to get to that point."

It's a new approach at UCLA, a quarterback yelling at his coach instead of the other way around. But there are a lot of new things in Westwood, with Hundley and Mazzone as a hub.

The 15th-ranked Bruins (9-2 overall, 6-2 Pac-12 Conference) have already secured a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. And they will have a hand in deciding their opponent when they meet 11th-ranked Stanford on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl.

A UCLA victory, coupled with Oregon beating Oregon State, sends the Bruins to Eugene for the Nov. 30 title game. A Stanford victory puts the game at Palo Alto. If UCLA and Oregon State win, there would be a UCLA-Stanford rematch at the Rose Bowl.

Hundley will have a hand in deciding the who-plays-whom question.

The defense for the Cardinal (9-2, 7-1) ranks fourth nationally against the run, giving up 71.2 yards per game, and is also fourth in sacks with 4.0 per game. The Bruins have struggled against physical defenses, losing to Oregon State, 27-20, and slipping past Utah, 21-14.

Hundley, a redshirt freshman, has improved considerably since those games. That was obvious last Saturday against USC.

UCLA had a combined 35 points in its previous five games against USC, but the Bruins topped that in 60 minutes in a 38-28 victory.

It was Mazzone's second consecutive victory over the Trojans. Arizona State defeated USC, 43-22, last season when Mazzone was the Sun Devils' offensive coordinator.

"I think [Arizona State quarterback] Brock Osweiler had a good day," Mazzone recalled, smiling. "I'm not sure."

There was no forgetting Hundley's sword-to-the-heart performance that planted USC into the turf. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown and also ran for two touchdowns.

Mazzone said Hundley's brightest moment came after a pinball-machine-like fumble was recovered for a touchdown by the Trojans. It cut UCLA's lead to 24-20 in the third quarter.

"Brett didn't blink," Mazzone said. "Instead, he came back and made some big plays for us."

If that sounds like a proud father, then it's an accurate sound bite.

Hundley was better fitted for the spread offense than the "Pistol" the Bruins lurched along with the previous two seasons. Mazzone found a quarterback with mobility, arm strength and accuracy waiting for him when he was hired in December.

"Noel is so easy to get along with and Brett is like a sponge," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said.

When Hundley talks about Mazzone, he paints a Papa Smurf image, saying, "He is pretty good at making his point without having to yell."

Of Hundley, Mazzone says, "The kid is very smart and has a lot confidence in his abilities."

The laid-back Mazzone, 55, seems to connect with the 19-year-old Hundley.

"He's cool," Hundley said. "If you just met him on the street, you would never know that he was such a genius. He's the smartest guy in the world, but he is so relaxed. He's like a normal guy."

Hundley has passed for 2,973 yards. Only two UCLA quarterbacks have topped 3,000 yards: Cade McNown, in 1997 and 1998, and Drew Olson in 2005. Hundley's 25 touchdown passes tie him with McNown for the second most in a season for UCLA. Olson threw for 34 in 2005.

Numbers are not Mazzone's focus. He's more interested in the evolution of Hundley and UCLA's offense.

"It's kind of like sitting down for a Thanksgiving dinner," Mazzone said. "You got the peas, mashed potatoes and the corn and the turkey. If he wants to eat turkey all night, he can. Now, if he wants to try corn, mashed potatoes, peas, it's there for him. It's his decision. That's kind of how the offense is built."

One other thing has been built.

Said Mora: "They trust each other."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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