UCLA vs. USC: As Long as Jim Mora and Brett Hundley Are Together, Bruins Own LA

Kyle KensingContributor IDecember 1, 2013

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For another year, ownership of the Victory Bell and the Los Angeles college football landscape belongs to UCLA after its 35-14 win over USC. And if quarterback Brett Hundley opts for another season in blue and gold, UCLA is positioned to run the city for the immediate future. 

Head coach Jim Mora came into the rivalry at a fortuitous time, with USC going through the tumult of NCAA sanctions and two head coaching changes in less than four years. A third coaching change could be in store if USC athletic director Pat Haden does not retain interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who suffered his first Pac-12 loss since taking over for the fired Lane Kiffin on Sept. 29. 

No matter the reason, UCLA had a window of opportunity to overtake USC in the intra-city rivalry, and Mora has capitalized on that opening. His 2-0 record in the series gives him a pitch in the ultra-competitive recruiting scene, as Rivals.com's Adam Gorney notes:

UCLA last won consecutive games over USC in 1997 and 1998. With Saturday's win, Mora was given a second celebratory dousing of Bruin-blue Gatorade in as many years. 

There were other instances of deja vu aside from the postgame Gatorade bath. Hundley had a pivotal performance in UCLA's 38-28 win in 2012, and Saturday's effort raised the bar further. He recorded two rushing touchdowns and a clean 18-of-27 for 208 yards passing.

Hundley faced more difficult odds in his sophomore campaign than in his impressive freshman season. A revolving door at running back and well-documented offensive line woes made Hundley's job more difficult, and at times he struggled. 

The issues surrounding Hundley weren't miraculously solved Saturday. On the contrary, the first-quarter ejection of true freshman tackle Caleb Benenoch for throwing a punch put the onus on Hundley.

And Hundley's response was to take ownership of the moment. In losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State, Hundley struggled with a collapsing pocket. He took a season-high nine sacks just one week ago in the division-conceding defeat against Arizona State. 

But Saturday, opposite a No. 15-ranked USC pass rush, Hundley underwent a seemingly instantaneous maturation. When in past weeks he was indecisive under pressure, Hundley made snap judgments with veteran savvy, taking what the Trojans defense gave him. 

And what the USC defense gave him were the edges, which Hundley exploited with quick outs or screens for big gains. He then worked the middle on his own, using his legs to immediately break from the shotgun for huge plays.

It's something UCLA faithful and teammates would certainly love to see more of. But nobody was more anxious to witness Hundley's performance than the Bruins head coach. Mora joked about Hundley's announced return for his redshirt junior season during the coach's postgame interview on ESPN.

NFL.com's Dan Greenspan tweeted Hundley will weigh his options in the coming weeks. 

However, former scout and current NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks writes that Hundley isn't quite ready for the leap. That's bad news for the Trojans, who have twice now seen him have a signature game against them. 

Linebacker Anthony Barr haunted USC once again.

He sealed the win a year ago with his sack of Matt Barkley, which effectively ended the former USC quarterback's college career. Saturday, Barr quashed any hope of a Trojans rally when he stripped quarterback Cody Kessler on a blindside blitz. 

There's no awaiting an NFL draft decision for Barr, a senior. He plagued USC for the last time, and surely those around Heritage Hall will wish him good riddance. But Mora also got numerous contributions from players just being introduced to the rivalry. 

Two true freshman defensive standouts—linebacker Myles Jack and defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes—both rushed for short-yardage touchdowns. While that speaks partially to the patchwork job Mora and his staff have had to do with mounting injuries, it's also a testament to the versatility of newcomers joining the program. 

And, oh yeah, they were pretty good on defense. Jack jumped on a Buck Allen fumble to strike the USC rally a major blow, just one of what should be many big plays the promising first-year linebacker makes in this rivalry. 

But the real story was Hundley. He'll have two years of eligibility remaining when this season ends. That's two more opportunities to keep the Victory Bell and L.A. bragging rights with UCLA.