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UCLA Blasts USC at the Rose Bowl. Dreams Appear Intact for Another Week

The Bruins clobbered their most-hated rival for a third straight season. The fans can revel in it, but the team is looking at something bigger.

The Mighty Bruins flexed on USC again.
The Mighty Bruins flexed on USC again.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

There are other ways to say it, but the best way is this: USC got trucked.

The big Victory Bell had clanged heavily behind the huge crowd inside the Rose Bowl that thundered and bellowed as the home team continued sending haymakers to the chin of its bitterest rival.

The 295-pound Southern Pacific locomotive bell—which the teams have played for as a trophy since 1942—will return to Westwood wearing a fresh coat of true-blue paint for another season.

"UCLA runs LA, if you guys didn’t hear last year," quarterback Brett Hundley said to ESPN after the game.

UCLA’s 38-20 win Saturday night was not only its third straight over the crosstown nemesis, but the first time in nearly 60 years that three in a row have been won by double-digit spreads.

The game in 2013 went 35-14 in favor of UCLA. The game in 2012 was 38-28.

The  winning streak is the longest since the all-time longest of eight, which the Bruins ran off from 1991 through 1998. Brett Hundley became the first quarterback since Cade McNown in 1998 to go 3-0 against the Trojans.

But the win over USC is not the end. It might be the beginning of something bigger.

"We don’t bask in moments," Bruins’ head coach Jim Mora told the Associated Press. "We’ll just move on to the next moment."

The next moment for UCLA will arrive quickly.

It is next Friday, the day after Thanksgiving—once more in Pasadena—where a win over Stanford would clinch the Pac-12 South and send the Bruins to the conference championship game in Santa Clara for a rematch against mighty Oregon.

The Ducks battered the Bruins in Los Angeles earlier this year with a big game from likely-Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and a dreadful performance by the home team. It was the rock bottom moment of UCLA's season.

For now, though, Mora is 3-0 against USC, and the first coach to win three in a row since Bob Toledo during the big streak. Mora’s teams have outscored the Trojans 111-62 during his three match-ups.

The game Saturday night never got bad or even rocky for UCLA’s otherwise up-and-down defense, which sacked Trojan’s quarterback Cody Kessler six times, harried him many others and made eight more tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

The group was fast and mean and it never loosened up on the traces even after the lead it helped build became insurmountable. It was the type of mauling-defense the Bruins thought they would have all season, and have had in spurts.

"I don’t know if it was the external pressure as much as it was the pressure we put on ourselves," defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich told ESPN about the unit’s struggles early on.

"We’ve got a young roster. They wanted it so bad. I dare to say too bad, to the point where they were pressing. This team has been built upon these guys trusting each other and loving ball and they almost lost that a bit in the midseason lull. We dropped a couple and we swore to get back to who we are and not care about what everyone else thinks about us."

Kessler, who had thrown only three interceptions all year, relinquished another one on a sensational one-handed, diving swipe by linebacker Erik Kendrick’s along the boundary. That pick had halted a promising USC drive and added fuel to a Bruins’ fire that, at that moment, was getting hot enough to melt steel.

Kessler very nearly threw three more interceptions after passes were batted sky high at the line of scrimmage by an aggressive and active UCLA defensive front that USC struggled to hold back.

Kessler—who finished with 214 yards, one touchdown and a 19.7 quarterback rating—was a most uncomfortable quarterback all night and limped out of the arena physically battered.

USC’s offense had scored 35 points a game headed into the UCLA game.

Headed out, they slunk from the pitch of fairway-cut Bermuda grass at the Rose Bowl showing only 20—the final six of which came when the game was well into desperation time. Through three quarters, USC had 200 total yards and 14 points.

The Trojans finished with 62-yards rushing on 33 carries, good for 1.9 yards per attempt. Their longest single carry went for 12 yards.

On the other hand, the game had started badly for UCLA’s offense.

Hundley has a strange quirk to his game demeanor—some mix of competitive determination mixed with confidence—in that he rebounds quickly in the rare situation where he makes a brutal, embarrassing mistake.

Last night, the most decorated passer in Bruins’ history threw a pick six on his very first throw. It was an awful decision that he executed to perfection after USC sent a corner-blitz from the field-side that expedited his delivery.

Trojans’ linebacker Anthony Sarao had read Hundley’s eyes, sprinted for the throw and took back the intercepted pass 17-yards along the far sideline for a touchdown. The Cardinal-and-Gold jubilation had been apoplectic as the score board flickered 7-0 USC.

"After that happened, it was probably the calmest I was all game," Hundley told the AP. "I was talking to Eric Kendricks and we both said nobody was worried. We both said we were going to get the ball back, go score some touchdowns and call it a game. We didn’t panic."

USC had used the great reward of that first blitz to justify the continued risk of calling them.

Hundley finished 13-of-18 (72-percent) the rest of the way on plays when the Trojans dispatched extra men on the attack. Three of those throws went for more than 20-yards and two ended in the end zone.

For the game Hundley was 22-of-31 for 326 yards and three touchdown passes. He ran in the clincher himself, 15-yards straight up main street, after USC’s defenders bit hard on a read-option fake to Paul Perkins.

Perkins carried the ball 24 times for 93 yards. He scored a 10-yard touchdown on an off-tackle play that put the Bruins ahead by three scores early in the third quarter. Perkins has been, alongside Hundley, UCLA’s offensive workhorse all season.

Even Devin Lucien—the sensational athlete who has been victimized this season by Pac-12 refs on at least one occasion—caught a touchdown. The super-speedy wideout ran a post route from the outside that dropped Trojans’ cornerback Leon McQuay to the turf when he tried to match Lucien’s cut toward the wide-open middle.

Lucien caught the ball inside the blue-and-gold end zone paint without a USC player in sight to knot the game at seven-a-side.

The next series Hundley hit Thomas Duarte on a 57-yard touchdown. McQuay again had been flamed at mid-field by Duarte’s juke and the Bruins’ tight-end/receiver hybrid sprinted to the goal to make UCLA’s lead 14 to 7.

The Trojans would tie the game on their next series with a short Justin Davis touchdown reception. Davis had been blasted by three Bruins at the pylon but got the ball over the plane an instant before he was launched toward the parapets enclosing the field.

After that, the Bruins never looked back, rolling up 24 straight points before USC got the final desperation touchdown with only three minutes to play.

The Bruins have, over the last five consecutive wins, made the nightmare of early-season injuries to the offensive line and jarringly inconsistent play but a dream. Those hard Saturdays during the back-to-back home losses to Utah and then Oregon appear to be gone for good.

"Those two losses feel like 100 years ago," said Noel Mazzone, the Bruins’ offensive coordinator.

"That doesn’t mean I’m not upset that we lost both. I think we’ve seen the offensive line really improve over the last month. And the glass half full is that maybe we’re a better football team because of those losses. The kids refocused, and we went back to our base, and we figured we’d just get good at what we do."

Mora was almost through talking about USC before the night in Pasadena had even ended, at least to the press he was.

UCLA at 9-2, and likely No. 8 in the next College Football Playoff rankings, has bigger dreams in sight.

"I talk about the Pac-12 championship," Mora said. "We have to win Friday. If we can win Friday, we will have another shot to win the Pac-12 championship. I don’t talk about other stuff."

But for the players the bragging rights for this one will last another year. Offensive lineman Scott Quessenbury—in mocking USC tackle Zack Banner who said UCLA was only leasing the town from the Trojans—made the message simple.

#WOTT = We Own This Town