LOS ANGELES -- Two years a monopoly does not make. But let’s just say UCLA is off of lowly Baltic Avenue and working its way toward Mora, err, Marvin Gardens.
We of course pay playful homage to the disastrous UCLA marketing campaign of a half-decade ago declaring that USC’s monopoly on Los Angeles football was over. Perhaps it didn’t fail. Maybe it was just ahead of its time.
For the second consecutive year, the Bruins posted a double-digit victory over their crosstown rival. Saturday night, they did it at the Coliseum, Traveler’s stomping grounds, for the first time since 1997. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley rushed for a pair of touchdowns in the 35-14 win. Inch by inch, yard by yard, the Bruins are blanketing this angelic city in blue.
“You get into the old ‘We own this town' stuff. We've got it right now, but we have to play them in 12 months, so it’s temporary,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora. “I’ll tell you what -- it’s nice to have it now for two years in a row. It tells you what’s going on at UCLA. It’s an exciting time at UCLA. It’s an exciting time to be a UCLA Bruin. You want to play for a fun, tough, hard-nosed football team that can go and win games everywhere, come to UCLA.”
If that sounds like a recruiting pitch, you’d be right. After last year’s win over USC in Pasadena, Mora was fairly stoic at the pulpit, recognizing but also downplaying the importance of the victory. But Saturday night, he looked like he was mainlining Red Bull.
"You win two in a row in this town, things start to change,” Mora said. “That’s going to help us in recruiting. If I’m a high school player, I want to play at UCLA right now.”
Case in point: two-way threat Myles Jack, who has splashed onto the national stage over the past month for his exploits on both sides of the ball. As a running back, he scored another short-yardage touchdown Saturday night, his seventh of the season. As a linebacker, he added three tackles and recovered a fumble. It’s wins like this that Mora promised Jack during the recruiting process, and a major reason why he opted to come to UCLA.
“I saw the first year with them beating ’SC, beating Nebraska, going to the Pac-12 championship,” Jack said. “When they were recruiting me, everything [Mora] said, he backed it up with numbers. They won big games. They went to the Pac-12 championship. They went to the Holiday Bowl. I saw the change and I wanted to be a part of that.
“If they are telling [recruits] the same thing they are telling me, it’s true. They aren’t lying. Everything they told me came true. They told me I could come in and compete for a spot, and came in and won the spot. They told me we were going to win big games. We beat ’SC, we were going to do big things, beat Nebraska. And we’ve done it. Coach is a man of his word and his track record proves it.”
In the other locker room, the coaching situation is questionable, at best. Interim coach Ed Orgeron had been on a stellar 6-1 run since taking over for the fired Lane Kiffin. But Saturday night, his team had no answers for its rival -- specifically Hundley, who was 18-of-27 for 208 yards passing to go with 80 yards and two scores on the ground. Protection issues also plagued the Trojans and quarterback Cody Kessler, who was sacked six times, including two each by Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh.
USC’s loss adds another wrinkle to its coaching search.
“I will take it one day at a time,” said Orgeron, who hasn’t made it a secret that he wants the job. “Right now I am hurting for these guys and our coaches. Tomorrow will be a new day, the sun will shine and we are going to get up and get after it again. We are going to look at film and correct it.”
Since the start of the 1990s, the USC-UCLA rivalry has been defined by streaks. UCLA won eight straight from 1991-98. The Trojans then went on to win 12 of the next 13 (two were vacated, but come on). As far as the rest of the country is concerned, this rivalry doesn’t have the same bite as, say, an Iron Bowl or Ohio State-Michigan. No one opted to boycott the letter “U” in the week leading up to the game. The CLA-SC showdown just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
But it means plenty in a recruiting-rich environment like Southern California. And plenty to a city that’s thirsty for football but doesn’t have an NFL team.
“What a great night for L.A. to have competitive teams going at it like that,” Mora said. “I’m so proud of our kids, our young men for the way they fight and the way they come back every week; their resilience and their toughness. There is something growing there that is pretty special. And to come in here on a Saturday night like this and get a win, it tells you where this program is headed.”
Three wins, or even four, in a row might not make it a monopoly. But every victory brings Mora and the Bruins one step closer to Boardwalk.