With so much on the line at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night, a few jitters were to be expected. That was evident right away, as Brett Hundley’s first passing attempt was intercepted for a touchdown and USC’s first attempted punt return was fumbled.
The result of both miscues was a 7-7 tie, as Nelson Agholor’s fumble set the Bruins up at the eight-yard line, and Hundley connected with Devin Lucien in the back of the end zone to tie it at seven. Finally somebody took the game cartridge out, blew some air into it, put it back in the console and turned it back on.
After Hundley’s initial interception, he closed out the first half completing 15 of his next 18 for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Hundley didn't need to use his legs as often as he has in the Bruins’ last few games, instead trusting the pocket and going through his progressions. He finished the game 22-of-31 for 326 yards with three passing touchdowns and a rushing score as the No. 9 Bruins marched to a 38-20 win over the No. 19 Trojans. The junior quarterback is now 3-0 against UCLA's crosstown rivals.
The Pac-12 South race was a little complicated heading into Saturday’s games, but it cleared up considerably after 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast. At this point, it’s UCLA, Arizona State or Arizona’s now. If Arizona State beats Arizona and UCLA loses to Stanford next week, the Sun Devils are in the conference title game. If Arizona wins and UCLA loses, the Wildcats take the division. The Bruins have the easiest path; a win over Stanford, and they’re on to the Pac-12 championship game.
It’s been almost a tale of three seasons for UCLA. In the first four games the Bruins didn’t quite look right on either side of the ball, and it seemed as though the lofty preseason expectations piled on them were weighing them down. Hundley admitted as much in early November, especially when it came to his game in particular.
“People don’t realize how much pressure there is,” Hundley said. “But I think at the end of the day, when you think of what got you to this point, you have to stay on your foundation and stay on what got you to this point. That’s what I had to do.”
UCLA still started 4-0 and rose up to No. 8 in the AP Poll after a Thursday night beatdown of Arizona State on Sept. 25. Then the bottom dropped out with a pair of losses to Utah and Oregon. The Bruins fell behind 42-10 to the Ducks, and the final score, 42-30, didn’t really show how easily the Ducks dismantled the UCLA defense.
There were two options -- fold or pick itself up. Perhaps while UCLA was deciding which option to take, it managed to win close games at Cal, at Colorado (in two overtimes).
Then the Bruins’ decision started becoming clear. They won at home against Arizona before beating Washington in Husky Stadium two weeks ago. And Saturday, in one of its most dominant performances of the season, UCLA dismantled its crosstown rival.
The Bruins stuffed USC repeatedly, holding the Trojans to 276 yards of offense while sacking Cody Kessler six times. USC made just 10 first downs, and its offense mustered only two scoring drives.
Now UCLA is a game away from a division title and a rematch with Oregon. If the Bruins can get passed Stanford on Friday, their first two chapters of the season will feel like a distant memory.
vs. Texas (in Arlington, Texas)
at Arizona State
W, 40-37 (2OT)