Scouting UCLA's Brett Hundley

LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin has found he keeps asking himself one question when watching UCLA's freshman quarterback, Brett Hundley, on film to prepare for the Bruins this week.

"How can that happen with a freshman?' " Kiffin asks himself.

Hundley is, indeed, a redshirt freshman starring for surprising UCLA this season. He has led the upstart Bruins to an 8-2 start with consistently solid and sometimes spectacular performances.

He has completed at least 64 percent of his passes in every one of his starts. In his worst game of the season, he still threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns on 31-of-47 passing (just with four interceptions.)

Hundley has gone five games without throwing a pick. USC's Matt Barkley, by contrast, has only gone three -- and has five multi-interception games. Hundley only has two.

"He's put together unbelievable numbers the whole season," Kiffin said of Hundley. "It's very unusual."

Kiffin has specifically credited three people with playing a role in Hundley's early success: UCLA head coach Jim Mora, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and, in a bit of a different way, running back Johnathan Franklin.

"They've done a great job with him," Kiffin said, speaking of Mora and Mazzone. "It's a great system. They've somehow managed him to be a freshman and not make a ton of mistakes and not turn the ball over a lot.

"A lot of credit to them and him. He's played really well."

Franklin, Kiffin said, has served as the attention-grabber over Hundley, keeping a good portion of teams' targets away from the quarterback that would otherwise dominate preparation and conversation.

"Any time you've got a guy who's played so much and had so much success ... that helps a freshman quarterback a lot," Kiffin said.

Kiffin also made an interesting, if debatable, point in discussing Hundley this week: While he's a capable runner, he's not a run-first quarterback. The spread system he's running at UCLA is also markedly different from the pistol he thought he was going to run when he signed with the Bruins out of high school.

"He's come in to a different system than he signed up for," Kiffin said. "But it's really fit him well."

Here's the thing: While Hundley's overall running numbers aren't as impressive as Oregon's Marcus Mariota or Arizona's Matt Scott, he has actually run more than either of those Pac-12 signal-callers this season.

Hundley has been credited with 111 rushes for just 272 yards. Scott has run 83 times for 369 yards, Mariota 78 times for 516 yards. Even adjusting for Hundley's high sack rate (he has been taken down 31 times to 13 for Scott and 12 for Mariota), he's still run more often and significantly less efficiently than those two.

The key to stopping Hundley, then, might be forcing him to throw less and run more. As USC defensive end Wes Horton said this week, that would require the Trojans' defenders to stick to their gap assignments and not over-pursue or gamble -- a task that proved entirely too much to handle two weeks ago against Oregon.

But it's still possible. And it might be the key to a victory on Saturday.

"If we do that," Horton said, "I don't think he'll have anywhere to scramble."