When San Jose State coaches watch tape of UCLA's 38-34 loss to Houston, you can bet one of the first things they will notice is tight end Joe Fauria.
At 6-feet-8, he's difficult to miss, especially when he's setting career highs with six receptions and 110 yards to emerge as a valuable weapon in UCLA's offensive scheme after tight ends combined to catch only 16 passes for 161 yards all of last season. His 110 yard receiving were the most by a UCLA tight end since Marcedes Lewis in 2005.
The offense has been looking for the tight ends a lot more in training camp, but Fauria's performance against Houston exceeded expectations even for Fauria.
"I thought I was going to ease into it a little bit, but it is what it is," Fauria said. "I did what I had to do make plays and to give us a shot."
Fauria's impact on the game can not be overstated. He had a 29-yard reception on third-and-four on the first play of the second quarter to keep alive a drive that ended in a touchdown. He had a 26-yard reception on third-and-eight in the second quarter, again keeping alive a drive that he ended when he made a 25-yard catch on second-and-14 and a five-yard touchdown reception on consecutive plays.
After UCLA fell behind, 31-14 , at halftime, Fauria helped set up a UCLA the opening drive of the second half with a four-yard reception at the two-yard line. When the Bruins took possession trailing 38-28 with 9:31 to play, they faced a third-and-eight at midfield and again called Fauria's number. He made a 21-yard reception to keep alive that drive and hopes of a comeback.
"I was really impressed with what he did," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "He stepped up and made plays at crucial times and that’s what we have to do as a group. He was one of the bright spots [Saturday]."
Fauria is among the tallest players in college football and provides a matchup nightmare for just about any linebacker or defensive back. Against Houston, UCLA quarterbacks Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut both threw high balls over defenders that only Fauria could reach.
He struggled with a groin injury that limited his mobility last season, but showed Saturday that he has the speed to get open in the seams and the hands to hang on to those balls when the quarterbacks throw them up there.
"He’s a guy that’s a weapon in there," Johnson said. "He’s a big long guy that can get down the field on you and make plays."
Fauria said he welcomed the opportunities against Houston, but said he would rather have had a win than 110 yard receiving. And now that the secret of his ability is out on film, opponents can try to neutralize him at the line of scrimmage even if they can't match up against his height. But Fauria says that will only lead to success for other players.
"Guys are going to start game planning and think they know what we have, but we have more depth and more personnel groups and everything is going to start opening up," he said. "When I get covered, other people are going to get opened up. When they get covered, I’m going to get open or the running game is going to open up.. We still have a lot up our sleeve."