Commentary

UCLA's win shows power shift

After second straight victory over USC, Mora says things are starting to change

Updated: December 1, 2013, 3:54 AM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- As Jim Mora led the UCLA Bruins off the field and into the tunnel of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, he stopped before entering the visitors' locker room. He gathered his players and coaches in the cardinal-and-gold tunnel lined with USC's national championship banners and photos of All-Americans and smiled.

"We own this town!" he yelled.

It was a statement loud enough for the USC Trojans to hear down the hall in their silent locker room, and loud enough, Mora hopes, for every recruit in the country to hear.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora sounded as if he were making a recruiting pitch after UCLA beat USC for the second year in a row: "If I'm a high school player, I want to play at UCLA right now."

The "Bruin Revolution" that Mora ushered in two years ago morphed into something real and tangible Saturday night at the Coliseum after UCLA's 35-14 victory over USC.

"When you win two in a row in this town, things start to change," Mora said. "That's going help us in recruiting. If I'm a high school player, I want to play at UCLA right now. I don't know if that's legal. Is that legal to say?"

It has been so long since a UCLA coach could utter that with a straight face that it was understandable for Mora to ask if he could indeed say it.

For the first time since 1997, UCLA beat USC at the Coliseum, and for the first time since 1998, the Bruins won consecutive games in the rivalry. Before Mora came to UCLA, the Bruins had beaten the Trojans only once since 1999. Since he took over, he hasn't lost to them.

Not only has UCLA defeated USC the past two years, it has done so by double-digit margins both times and left little doubt which football program is better in Los Angeles right now.

"It's nice to have it now for two years in a row," Mora said. "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 because it's brewing over here."

Mora sounded as if he were talking to a group of recruits rather than a group of reporters after the game. He will head back out on the recruiting trail Sunday and said he would use the results of the past two years as proof that the best high school players in Los Angeles should come to UCLA and play for the best team in Los Angeles.

His recruiting pitch didn't just stop at high school players. He also tried to recruit UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley to come back to school for one more season. Hundley passed for 208 yards Saturday, connecting on 18 of 27 attempts, while rushing for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. He also became the first UCLA quarterback since Cade McNown to beat USC in back-to-back seasons.

"I don't know what Brett's timetable is for that," Mora said. "I feel very hopeful and very confident that he'll want to stay a part of this thing. This thing is special. You don't want to rush through this. I tell these guys that. The lure of the money and the NFL is great but there is nothing like a night like tonight. You don't get that in the NFL. That was more exciting than playing in the dang Super Bowl. That was awesome. You don't get that when you leave this place, so why rush through life?"

Hundley smiled when asked about his future plans. Mora had jokingly tried to get his quarterback to announce he was coming back when they were being interviewed on the field, but Hundley said he wasn't ready to make that decision yet.

"He tried to jump me in the height of the excitement," Hundley said. "It's going to be a big decision and we'll make it after the bowl game."

As he looked down at the final statistics after the game, Hundley was more focused on what he and UCLA had just done at the Coliseum than a decision he won't make until next month.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley, Leonard Williams
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley led UCLA to victory over USC but still wasn't ready to commit to coming back for his junior season.

"Last year after the win over SC nobody gave us credit for it, and this win really validated what we did last year and what we're doing this year," Hundley said. "The one thing that's funny to me is I never thought of this as a battle. I thought of this more as a takeover. UCLA runs L.A., and let's have some fun saying it because we have another year to say it."

The culture change Mora has been preaching about since he took over was largely built on a belief that a recruit had to buy into. It didn't exist when Mora was hired. UCLA was coming off a 50-0 thrashing at the hands of USC. The Bruins had lost at least six games in each of the previous six seasons and in eight of the previous nine.

That's when Mora ushered in this "Bruin Revolution," which essentially asked recruits and current players to take a sledgehammer to every old stereotype and help build the program to a level it has never reached. He asked them to take the path less traveled and build their own legacy, instead of following one that had already been established across town.

"It's funny to hear the statistics, but we're a new team," Hundley said. "Just to be able to come out here and get the win at the Coliseum really says something and shows the nation what we're doing. Now people can look at UCLA and say they run L.A. ... You can wear your UCLA stuff proudly and people will look at you differently now. Everyone in the country is taking notice of what UCLA is doing."

That includes recruits locally and nationally who took the leap of faith with Mora over the previous two years and the ones who won't have to make such a hard leap now when they decide to sign with the best team in L.A.

"When you think of football in L.A. with USC and UCLA, you think of USC first," said freshman running back/linebacker Myles Jack. "We're trying to change that and make it UCLA over USC. That's what we did tonight with two wins in a row. It's one thing to do it once for one year and say USC was down, but to do it again, that just validates and shows UCLA football is on the map and we run this town."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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