UCLA Bruins have turned key to city

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns in the Bruins' 38-20 victory over the Trojans on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

This time, Jim Mora didn’t need to shout it.

This time, his swaggering UCLA football team roared it, USC’s swollen ears are ringing from it, and the San Gabriel Mountains are probably still echoing it.

This time, there can be no arguing, ignoring or silencing it.

The Bruins own this town.

What their coach infamously announced in a Coliseum tunnel last season was repeated again and again in a raucous Rose Bowl on Saturday night during a game that felt like the harsh pounding of a gavel and the stark announcement of a verdict.


UCLA scored 38 points and barely broke a sweat. USC scored 20 points and barely stayed upright. It wasn’t close. It was rarely competitive.

It started with a Bruins’ defensive stand before the opening kickoff, with injured UCLA wide receiver Sam Handler standing firmly at midfield as the USC band prepared to march there, symbolically protecting the giant UCLA logo while fans cheered and USC officials wildly complained.

It ended with a Bruins’ offensive rush after the final whistle, the players rushing down the field and jumping into the student section while the horns blared and drums thumped and the Arroyo Seco filled with chants of “U-C-L-A.”

In between, the Bruins overcame an early pick six by USC’s Anthony Sarao to pound it down USC’s shiny metallic helmets with a combined 152 yards worth of scoring drives at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half.

With 9:22 left in the third quarter, they led by 24 points and finished in a cruise.

“This just confirms what we have believed all along, that we are building something special here,” Mora said afterward, unsmiling, his cap still pulled low, his emotions more circumspect than last season.

Back then, perhaps, he only hoped his Bruins were on the verge of local domination. Now, he surely knows.

While Mora didn’t publicly repeat his statement of ownership, his star quarterback was more than happy to repeat the sentiment.

“I already said it, UCLA runs L.A., and if you guys didn’t hear it last year — I think this year we sort of made the statement,” Brett Hundley said.

On this harmonious eight-clap of a night, anything the Trojans could do, the Bruins did better.

Hundley soared, Cody Kessler ran for his life. Paul Perkins skittered, Javorius Allen stalled.

The Bruins’ defense held the Trojans to 276 total yards. The Trojans’ defense allowed 461 yards.

Nowhere was the disparity more clear than with the head coaches.

Mora’s players had such energy, on several occasions after scores the coach had to physically restrain the entire team from bouncing and dancing in a huge mob onto the middle of the field. Steve Sarkisian, meanwhile, set the disappointing tone for his team by turning down an early short field-goal opportunity for a fourth-down run that was stopped, and then later watched his players show their frustration with two personal fouls that basically handed UCLA a 66-yard scoring drive for its final touchdown.

“This will be another challenge for us,” Sarkisian said afterward. “We’ll have to get back up on the horse.”

Considering this loss is the Trojans’ fourth this season, and follows a defeat to overmatched Boston College and last-second blown leads to Arizona State and Utah, one can only pity that poor tired horse.

Meanwhile, it is no coincidence that since Mora showed up, UCLA now has three consecutive victories in this series by a combined margin of 111-62, during which time they have beaten three different USC coaches, two different USC quarterbacks, and a passel of increasingly impatient USC fans.

Those cardinal-and-gold clad folks were overwhelmed and outshouted Saturday by a margin rarely seen in this series.

The Rose Bowl was largely blue, and the USC seats largely empty by the start of the fourth quarter, further contributing to the notion that Los Angeles’ football landscape has at least temporarily shifted.

“I don’t care what USC is going through,” said UCLA receiver Devin Lucien, who nabbed a 10-yard touchdown pass. “I did my part to make them feel worse.”

Today the city, tomorrow the country? With such an overwhelming victory against such a respected opponent, the Bruins are now clearly in a position to win two consecutive games and land in college football’s new four-team playoff for the national championship.

Even with their two losses, if the Bruins can beat Stanford at the Rose Bowl on Friday, then upset Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara in two weeks, they would certainly deserve a spot in that newfangled final four.

“This sets us up to be chasing our dream,” said Mora, speaking specifically of the Pac-12 title game. “But you can’t sit here and gloat.”

Watching them Saturday night, fans of ninth-ranked UCLA were surely more about dreaming than gloating, as it was tough to imagine four college football teams who are currently playing better.

“We don’t bathe in moments,” Mora said tersely. “We just move onto the next moment.”

Surely UCLA fans would like him to splash around in this moment, just a little bit, if only to watch USC sink.

Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke