UCLA receiver Mossi Johnson holds on to a pass for a first down despite receiving a big hit from USC linebacker Su’a Cravens during the second quarter Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
The USC offensive line squares up with the UCLA defensive line in a game at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 22, 2014.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Six years after an ill-advised ad campaign by UCLA’s marketing department, the Bruins can say that they have ended one college football monopoly in Los Angeles.
And maybe that they have begun another: Theirs.
The Bruins’ 38-20 victory over USC on Saturday evening gave them clear possession of the city. UCLA fans celebrated a third consecutive victory in the series by chanting “U-C-L-A” and players raced to the student section to celebrate.
“I can’t lie, this feels great,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said.
USC’s Pete Carroll years have been permanently assigned to history. The Trojans are on their second coach, plus two interim coaches, since Carroll left after the 2009 season.
On the other side, Jim Mora has resurrected a program that had an 82-81 record from 1999 to 2011.
All of those things were painfully obvious — to the Trojans.
After USC beat California last week, tackle Zach Banner said that UCLA had been “renting” the city the previous two seasons. It’s looking more like leased-to-own.
The Bruins rolled up 461 total yards and yielded only 276 to the Trojans. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns. The UCLA defense played a game of tag-team in battering USC quarterback Cody Kessler, sacking him six times.
And UCLA receiver Devin Lucien wondered what all the fuss was about.
“Everyone was hyped up before the game and I was wondering what the big deal was,” Lucien said. “We had beaten these guys before.”
And did so again.
“Maybe we don’t own this town, but this win validates what we have done against USC,” Lucien said.
Now they can look for validation elsewhere.
This was another step for the Bruins (9-2 overall, 6-2 in Pac-12 Conference play) on a path back to the national discussion. A victory over Stanford on Friday gives them a crack at Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.
As for their national profile, the Bruins could move up in the College Football Playoff rankings, where they were No. 9 before Saturday. Two more wins, including one against the No. 2 Ducks in the Pac-12 title game, and UCLA would have a strong argument for a spot the four-team national-championship playoff.
“We can keep chasing the dream,” Mora said. “I’m talking about the Pac-12 championship. If we beat Stanford, we can have another shot at that.”
The Trojans (7-4, 6-3) have more limited goals as they lumber toward another rivalry game next weekend, against Notre Dame. They are looking at a lower-tier bowl, and Coach Steve Sarkisian — called “seven-win Sark” by some Washington fans when he coached there — could have a 7-5 record in his first season at USC.
“We’re not dead,” Sarkisian said. “We lost a football game.”
This was the Bruins’ biggest victory over the Trojans since a 45-25 win in 1986.
UCLA dominated all phases Saturday.
The Trojans didn’t want Hundley to run.
“That meant I could sit back there and sling it around,” he said. “We had some fun.”
Hundley completed 22 of 31 passes. His receivers ran free downfield when they weren’t running through the arms of USC defenders.
It started badly for the Bruins. USC’s Anthony Sarao intercepted Hundley’s first pass of the night and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game.
Nearly everything went the Bruins’ way from there, starting when Nelson Agholor muffed a punt and UCLA’s Taylor Lagace recovered.
Three plays later, Lucien left a USC defensive back on the turf and was wide open for a 10-yard touchdown reception that tied the score. Thomas Duarte turned a mid-range pass into a 57-yard touchdown, giving the Bruins a 14-7 lead with 8:01 left in the first quarter. Eldridge Massington slipped a defender for a 13-yard touchdown catch for a 24-14 halftime lead.
“They were so focused on keeping Brett from running that we saw a lot of one-on-one coverage,” Lucien said. “We love that.”
Ninety-one of the Trojans’ 276 yards came on a meaningless touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Kessler completed 22 of 34 passes for 214 yards but was under constant pressure. The six sacks were a UCLA season high.
Agholor, USC’s top receiver, had three catches for 24 yards. Javorius Allen, who came into the game as the Pac-12’s leading rusher, was held to 60 yards. The Trojans finished with only 62 yards rushing as a team.
The big moments belonged to the UCLA defense. Kendricks and Owamagbe Odighizuwa dropped Allen for no gain at the UCLA five-yard line on a fourth-and-two play at the end of the first quarter. Kendricks made a diving interception of a second-quarter pass that went off the hands of USC fullback Jahleel Pinner, and Hundley turned that into a 68-yard touchdown drive.
“Before the game started, we had that confidence that we were going to win and we were going to dominate,” Odighizuwa said. “We knew we could make this a three-peat.”
Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes