CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Forget “best player in the country.” On Saturday, Brett Hundley wasn't even the most productive quarterback on the field.
But his defensive teammates provided three second-quarter touchdowns, and UCLA's Heisman Trophy candidate did enough in the second half to help the No. 7 Bruins escape Virginia's upset bid, 28-20.
“That's how it should be,” said senior linebacker Eric Kendricks, who scored one touchdown, forced a fumble that led to another and recorded a game-high 16 tackles. “We've got (the offense's) back. When they're not making plays, we've got to make plays for them.”
Kendricks' 37-yard interception return capped a remarkable second period for the Bruins, who returned only one interception for a score all last season.
First, Owamagbe Odighizuwa got a hand on Greyson Lambert's pass from behind, causing it to flutter. Ishmael Adams picked off the ball and scored from 20 yards out.
The Cavaliers were driving later in the second quarter, but Kendricks caused Kyle Dockins to fumble after an apparent first-down reception, and Randall Goforth returned it 75 yards for a touchdown that was upheld by video replay. Then came Kendricks' return for a 21-3 lead, marking the first time UCLA had scored three defensive touchdowns since 1986.
“I told them, ‘Great job,'” Hundley said. “They should do that every game.”
Those scores lowered the pressure on Hundley, who entered the season with Heisman hype. He connected with Eldridge Massington on a 48-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, but he was harassed by an inspired Virginia defense for most of the day. He completed 20-of-33 passes for 242 yards and was sacked five times.
It marked just the third time in 28 career games that Hundley did not throw a touchdown pass. But he ran for a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter and completed a 35-yard third-down pass to Jordan Payton that helped the Bruins run out the clock.
“I really felt like Brett was pretty relaxed,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “I never saw him get flustered with the rush. He kept his cool. I've seen him in games in the past, when things weren't going well, maybe he's gotten tight. … But I thought he kept his poise today.”
Kendricks' return prompted embattled Virginia coach Mike London to pull Lambert in favor of fellow sophomore Matt Johns rather than David Watford, who started during last year's 2-10 season.
Johns, who was listed as a co-No. 2 on the depth chart, promptly led the Cavaliers on a 75-yard scoring drive, capped by a leaping 29-yard touchdown catch by Andre Levrone. Johns also threw a 23-yard scoring pass to Darius Jennings in the third quarter.
Johns completed 13 of 22 passes for 154 yards in his first career appearance as anything other than a holder for kicks. And Virginia outgained UCLA 386 yards to 358.
But Johns' inexperience showed in the fourth quarter. Trailing 28-20, he led Virginia to UCLA's 18 with under four minutes to play. On third-and-10, he misread the play call on his wristband, and the Cavaliers ran a draw play that netted just two yards. Johns' fourth-down pass for Doni Dowling was broken up by UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.
“I thought (the quarterback change) gave us a spark,” Johns said. “They're the No. 7 team in the country, and we proved we can play with them. I think we can play with anyone.”
London declined to say who will start in next Saturday's game against FCS opponent Richmond.
NOTES: Ishmael Adams' 86-yard, second-quarter punt return for a touchdown was negated when UCLA teammate Priest Willis was flagged for continuing to play after losing his helmet. … Virginia started freshman Quin Blanding, one of its two five-star recruits, at free safety. The other, DT Andrew Brown, did not play.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun