Well, so much for the concerns that Bruin Nation had for their team against their crosstown rivals on Saturday night at the Coliseum.
In scoring the first two touchdowns of the game against USC, UCLA took the hostile Trojan crowd right out of the contest – save for a few moments when they got to within seven points in the second and third quarters – as the Bruins never trailed in this 83rd meeting between the two schools.
Even though the Trojans did sack him twice, Brett Hundley did an incredible job in negating ‘SC’s advantage over UCLA’s inexperienced offensive line, getting rid of the ball quickly in throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 additional yards and two key touchdowns in the second half.
And earning my personal Crosstown Rivalry Game MVP honors in the process.
The Bruin defense – and especially its front seven – silenced concerns of containing the hot Trojan offense as their performance was every bit as incredible as Hundley’s, sacking Cody Kessler a season-high six times and forcing two crucial fumbles in the fourth quarter, giving up just 140 rushing yards and stifling any hopes of a USC comeback.
The Trojans’ two injuries on their offensive line that they suffered in the game may have had something to do with UCLA’s defensive success as Marcus Martin, with an injured knee, and Aundrey Walker, who broke his ankle, were forced to leave the game, significantly weakening that o-line as Martin and Walker were key guys up front.
Javorius “Buck” Allen should thus be given much credit for his 123 yards on 20 carries with an 11-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that cut the Bruin lead in half, stepping up and overcoming his depleted line as ‘SC has pretty much found their man at tailback for the immediate future in the redshirt sophomore.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, Allen’s fourth quarter fumble as the offense was driving was a big factor in the eventual outcome, as was a second fumble by Kessler – who threw for 178 yards and a touchdown to Xavier Grimble in the third – which was caused by Anthony Barr (who had two of the Bruins’ six sacks) and recovered by Cassius Marsh with 5:53 left.
Paul Perkins then sealed things with his eight-yard scoring run, executing the final backbreaking dagger honors.
Meanwhile, it was UCLA’s running game, rather than ‘SC’s (save for Allen), that was shining, converting on eight of 13 third down situations with all five Bruin touchdowns being scored on the ground as their young offensive line overpowered their USC defensive counterparts for much of the night.
Put that all together, and you have a triumphant Bruin football team as their 35-14 victory over the Trojans and their 86,037 mostly downcast fans – many of whom were gone with about three minutes left in the game – was their first win at the Coliseum since 1997, snapping a seven-game losing streak in ‘SC’s house as they retained possession of the Victory Bell, the trophy given to the winner of this Crosstown “Battle For L.A.”, which will remain blue.
It was not only the first time that Jim Mora’s team beat their 11-miles-away rivals in consecutive seasons since their eight-year winning streak from 1991-98, their 21-point margin of victory is the largest over the Trojans since – get this - 1970.
Plus in adding salt to the USC wound, this loss to the Bruins marks the second consecutive year that interim coach Ed Orgeron’s Trojans have lost to their two rivals – UCLA and Notre Dame – in the same season.
That hasn’t happened since 1991-1993, when UCLA was in the beginning of their eight-game win streak over ‘SC and the Irish were in the midst of their 11-year dominance in the 1980s and 90s.
“That was a heck of a game and a lot of fun,” Mora said afterward. “What a great night…To come in here on a Saturday night and get this win. It tells you where this program is headed.”
“We’ve got this right now but we have to play them in 12 months…it’s nice to have (a win over the Trojans) two years in a row,” he added.
For the record, Mora’s back-to-back wins over USC is the first time since Bob Toledo in 1996 and ’97 that a Bruin coach beat the Trojans in his first two years at the helm.
On the other side of the coin, Orgeron was expectedly disappointed in saying,”I think it was the worst performance we have had since we started back together…We didn’t play well on special teams. No excuses. We just didn’t play well.”
Considering that Ishmael Adams was once again brilliant on kickoff returns, going for 130 yards, I think Orgeron was accurate in his special teams’ assessment.
Save for the die-hard Bruin fans, I don’t think anyone expected UCLA to win so convincingly over a rival that had been playing so well, winning five in a row before Saturday’s clash.
That seemed to particularly be the case when Willie McGinest, an all-American linebacker at USC in the early 1990s and a former all-pro with the New England Patriots, led the team out of the tunnel in quite the pumping-up-the-crowd-fashion when he ripped off his jacket to reveal his old #55 jersey, putting on a Trojan helmet before storming out.
Which is another reason why the Bruins should be credited for their focus in executing and not letting the “Trojan Family” get to them (with the unfortunate exception of freshman tackle Caleb Benenoch, who in his first rivalry experience was ejected early in the first quarter for punching USC’s J.R. Tavai), overcoming the intensely hostile atmosphere in beating the Trojans for the 30th time.
So now that this 83rd UCLA – USC game is in the books and the Victory Bell is safely back in Westwood, what’s next?
Having risen from 22nd to 18th in the BCS, although it hasn’t been confirmed the 9-3 Bruins (6-3 in the Pac-12) are likely to go to the Sun Bowl on December 31, spending New Year’s Eve in the west Texas town of El Paso.
As for the Trojans, who fell to 9-4 (6-3 in the Pac-12) and dropped out of the BCS rankings and were relegated to “Others Receiving Votes” status in the AP polls…
They will probably head up the I-15 to Sin City for the Las Vegas Bowl on December 21, where they will be playing the Mountain West Conference champion, which will perhaps be Fresno State.
At the very least, those are my projections.
Two quotes from Bruins sums all of this up:
“I never thought this was a battle, I thought of this as a takeover. UCLA runs L.A. and we have another year to say it,” stated Hundley, while Marsh, who like Barr had two of the Bruins’ six sacks, only had four words to say:
“It’s our city now.”