Virginia Tech Hokies (8-4) vs. #17 UCLA Bruins (9-3) 12/31- 2:00PM EST
HYUNDAI SUN BOWL- El Paso, TX
Line: UCLA -7.0
The No. 17 UCLA Bruins will try for their first bowl win four years on New Year’s Eve when face for the first time the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Sun Bowl.
UCLA coach Jim Mora in just his second year has turned the Bruins football program around and with a win can cap their best season in eight years since they went 10-2 back in 2005 finishing the year with a No. 16 ranking.
UCLA (9-3) believes Jim Mora is their coach for the long-haul and signed him to a six-year contract extension in early December to ward off suitors from other high-profile programs, nonetheless, Mora has been linked to replace Mack Brown at Texas… a rumor Mora has denied.
“Rumors. It’s flattering,” Mora said. “I think it says a lot about our program and the direction we’re heading, but I am very, very, very extremely delightfully happy to be the head coach at UCLA, and want to be for a very long time.”
Last year in the Holiday Bowl in Mora’s first year, the Bruins we’re pounded by the Baylor Bears 49-26 to deny UCLA a double-digit win season.
But now that Mora is locked in, UCLA fans can only hope sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley will be returning for his junior season.
Hundley this year leads the Pac-12 with a 67.8 completion percentage, throwing for 2,845 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions and over his last five games has thrown eight scoring passes while being picked off only once.
Hundley is also getting it done on the ground as he leads the Bruins with 587 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
The Bruins have been hit hard with injuries on the offensive line and struggled to protect Hundley, who has been sacked 33 times, second-most in the conference and facing a Virginia Tech team that leads the ACC in sacks with 37 will be a great challenge.
Generating any type of offense against the Hokies defense will be a tough task for Brett Hundley and the Bruins where they are among the nations-best against the run allowing 103.8 yards per game, the pass 168.5 yards and interceptions with 19.
Coach Jim Mora isn’t surprised by the Hokies (8-4), who are led by long time coach Frank Beamer.
“They play great special teams, they play outstanding defense. That’s what they do,” Mora said. “They play hard. They play with discipline. You don’t see technique errors. You don’t see missed assignments. You see a bunch of guys who know what they are supposed to do with a lot of certainty, and they do it fast and with bad intentions.
“It’s an impressive team to watch.”
Beamer will be leading the Hokies into their 21st consecutive bowl game, which is the longest active streak for a coach and second only to Florida State’s 32 active bowl runs.
Virginia Tech is led by Logan Thomas who will be calling the signals for his third straight bowl, but will need to improve his performance where he is just 34 of 67 passes for 407 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions over his first two bowl appearances.
Expect the Hokies to utilize running back Trey Edmunds who leads the team with 675 yards while averaging 4.1 yards per carry with 12 TDs—10 rushing against a Bruins defense that is yielding an average of 193.6 rushing yards over it’s last seven games.
I’m looking forward to watching Pac-12’s freshman of the year Myles Jack, the two-way player who lines up in the backfield and stars at linebacker. Jack has 269 yards on 37 carries with seven touchdowns.
“It’s exciting for us to go against offenses like that. It’s a good test for us,” Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler said. “That’s the most exciting and energetic part of this thing is that we get to go play a team like that.
“If you beat a team like UCLA, everybody seems to think this year is a success. If you go and lose, then everyone thinks the opposite.”
The Bruins have been made a (minus -7.0) point favorite for Tuesday’s game by the oddsmakers, but get the latest spread on the game up until kickoff right here at Wonder Punter.
Expect a great and exciting game from both teams as these two teams will be meeting for the first time, but I predict the Bruins to give Jim Mora his first bowl win.
By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter