Brett Hundley holds Bruins' hopes in the crook of his arm

Written By kolimtiga on Minggu, 14 September 2014 | 12.56

It was a nightmare answer to the question that fatalist UCLA football fans had been whispering since their team began the season with national championship hopes and Heisman Trophy dreams.

Something just has to go wrong, right?

Well, something just did.

Brett Hundley has injured his left elbow, and the remainder of the Bruins season now rests in its tenuous crook.

In a glorious AT&T Stadium the Bruins distantly hoped they might visit again for the national title game in January, those hopes were ingloriously muted Saturday when quarterback Hundley left the game against Texas shaking that sore left elbow late in the first quarter.

He spent most of the rest of the first half in the locker room, and the second half on the field wearing a huge bandage on the elbow. He will undergo an MRI exam Sunday at UCLA, and who knows where he will be when the Bruins play again in 12 days at Arizona State?

Until then, UCLA will be holding its breath even as its fans are exhausting theirs cheering for Hundley's backup, Jerry Neuheisel — yeah, Rick's kid, pretty cool, huh? — who smartly led the Bruins to a 20-17 victory over the injury-riddled and suspension-depleted Longhorns.

Neuheisel clearly has his father's flair for the dramatic. At halftime, with UCLA trailing by a touchdown, he announced to the team, "I've been dreaming of this my whole life!" Then in the final three minutes, he connected with Jordan Payton on a 33-yard touchdown pass to stun the Longhorns and keep the Bruins unbeaten. When the game ended, his teammates carried him on their shoulders as he screamed to the sky, his blond locks flying, a heartwarming finish to a fear-filled day.

But that fear remains. Neuheisel was wonderful in the moment, but UCLA's next couple of months worth of moments are dependent on Hundley. He doesn't get carried, he does the carrying. Late Saturday, Coach Jim Mora seemed uncertain of a diagnosis and Hundley was not made available to the media amid much speculation about the injury's severity.

"I was with him at halftime when [doctors] talked to Brett, what they thought, what they could and could not see, the risk and reward," said Mora. "We just decided that it was best for Brett not to play. He was begging to get back into there, but it wouldn't have been the right thing to do."

The good news for UCLA is Hundley is right-handed, so the left elbow isn't critical to his game. The bad news is, well, Hundley is injured.

It is impossible to overstate No. 17's importance to a program that has thrived in his image. Its entire offense is built on his shoulders. Its entire culture is reflective of his recklessness and toughness.

The narrative that Jim Mora is responsible for transforming UCLA into a title contender is true, but with an asterisk — Mora has never won a game as Bruins coach without Hundley as his quarterback.

Hundley hasn't missed a start in the last three seasons. He has accounted for at least one touchdown passing or running in each of those games. He hasn't thrown less than 19 passes in any of those games.

It's his offense, his team, and, this was going to be his season. Even though UCLA's two unimpressive wins removed him from the leaders in the early stages of the Heisman Trophy race, he dominated last week against Memphis.

Yet from those first struggling moments against Virginia, it was clear Hundley's path was not going to be an easy one. His offensive line has struggled and his running game has been of little assistance. It only figures he was injured while running for his life.

While scrambling up the middle with 4:29 left in the first quarter, a juking Hundley stuck his left arm down to the turf in an attempt to keep his balance. The ploy had worked earlier in the drive when he was able to stay upright on a similarly successful third-down run. This time, though, the arm twisted and buckled, dropping Hundley to the ground after an 11-yard gain.

There was immediately a suspicion of injury as Hundley stood up and began running off the field while furiously shaking his left wrist. That suspicion was confirmed when he sat down on the field in apparent pain shortly before reaching the sidelines.

Bruins jaws were clenched everywhere as backup Neuheisel took the field while Hundley sat on the bench surrounded by trainers and doctors. There was a moment of exhaling when Bruins officials announced Hundley's return was "probable," but that ended with 10:32 left in the second quarter when Hundley went to the Bruins locker room, where he remained for the rest of the first half.

There was a brief glimmer of hope when Hundley's uniform appeared out of the tunnel at the start of the second half. But that hope quickly ended when it was obvious Hundley's left elbow was wrapped in enough ice to house a hockey team. The bandage was so big and bulky, he looked like a pitcher who had just thrown a 120-pitch complete game.

Can he come back on a dozen days' rest? And how mobile and confident will he be when he returns? This was a wonderful Bruins victory, to be followed by one heck of a Bruins hangover.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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