By Art Spander
LOS ANGELES — They were in separate rooms — well, a room for one, a tent for another, the coach unsure of his future, particularly the way his USC team played against UCLA, the quarterback unsure of his future, particularly the way UCLA played against USC.
The game didn’t mean much, not compared to Auburn-Alabama, not compared to Ohio State-Michigan, but then again it meant everything, this Bruin victory over the Trojans, 35-14.
“This win,” said the quarterback, UCLA sophomore Brett Hundley, “really validates what we did last year. You can wear your UCLA stuff proudly now. UCLA now runs L.A.”
An overstatement, an exaggeration, an emotional outburst. And well understood.
There at the other end of the Coliseum, the oversized replica jerseys of the six USC Heisman winners, spread out on the stairs below the glowing fire of the Olympic torch.
There on the walls of the tunnel that leads from the locker rooms to the field, the huge painted tributes to Trojan national championships and All-Americans.
It’s been a USC town, Los Angeles. Even with eight straight Bruin wins in the 1990s. Hadn’t the Trojans won 12 of the last 13 from UCLA before Saturday night? Hadn’t the Trojans won seven straight from the Bruins at the Coliseum?
Now the streak is severed. Now UCLA, 9-3 overall, with a quarterback who is going to consider entering the draft — even though he’s not ready — has won at USC’s home after in 2012 winning at its own home, the Rose Bowl.
A non-sellout crowd of 86,037 was there, the majority USC partisans who glumly began to file out with five minutes to play, cheers from the small UCLA group painful to their ears.
Not since 1997 had UCLA won at the Coliseum, and nobody in blue, players or spectators, was going to leave quietly. Some didn’t want to leave in any manner.
“This is a big win for us,” said Hundley.
How big a loss it was for USC (9-4) is yet to be determined. Under interim coach Ed Orgeron the Trojans had won five straight and six of seven. His players are so intent in having him named permanent coach that moments before kickoff they formed a circle, an “O” for Orgeron, to show their support. Had USC won, he would have had the job. He still might have the job, but the defeat was a negative.
“It’s our worst performance since we’ve been back together,” said Orgeron, a roundabout way of saying since he had been elevated to the position at the end of September, replacing Lane Kiffin.
“We weren’t able to run,” he conceded. “We couldn’t stop Hundley on the quarterback draws. We tried everything. We started blitzing; they started sprinting past the blitzes. Nobody played well enough tonight to beat a rival team, and that was my responsibility.”
His counterpart, Jim Mora, can take responsibility for bringing UCLA out of the sporting wilderness. Mora took control before the 2012 season, and while the Bruins are far from what he wants — they haven’t beat Stanford, they couldn’t slow Arizona State — UCLA Mora is 2-0 against USC.
“The stuff he brought to the team,” said Hundley, who in his own way brought plenty of stuff, “and the way he flipped around against USC, 2-0, the aura of the program has changed. Everything’s changed, and we’re seeing it.”
What Mora saw was a vision of the past.
“That was a heck of a game and a lot of fun,” said Mora. “It reminded me when I was a kid coming here when my dad was coaching at UCLA (as an assistant in 1974) and watching both teams in their home uniforms.”
That, certainly, was a great part of the game, allowed, finally, by the Pac-12 and NCAA.
“I had flashbacks,” said Mora. “What a great night. Both teams were so competitive . . . to come in here on a Saturday night and get this win tells you where this program is headed.
“We’ve had some good wins. The Nebraska wins have been big. We beat Southern Cal last year. But this one, on the road and coming off the ASU game (a 38-33 loss eight days earlier), to come in here where they’ve won and where Coach O has done a great job, I’d agree this is our biggest win ever.”
Hundley ran for 80 yards net and two touchdowns, and passed for 123 yards net. UCLA had 396 yards to USC’s 314, but USC also had a 15-yard punt, and UCLA's Ishmael Adams had 130 yards in kickoff returns.
“It’s been a while,” said Orgeron, asked when the last time an opposing quarterback had played as well as Hundley did. “Especially a quarterback running the ball. It seemed like everything we tried, they countered.”
Orgeron said he had no idea about his future at USC.
“We set out to go eight weeks in a row, one week at a time, one game at a time,” he explained. “Obviously we are disappointed, especially when you don’t beat UCLA and Notre Dame. That is what a head coach at USC is supposed to do.”