Brett Hundley's first pass was intercepted by Southern California linebacker Anthony Sarao, who returned it up the UCLA sideline for a shocking touchdown. Red-clad fans rocked the predominantly blue Rose Bowl, hoping this rivalry was undergoing a seismic shift.
Hundley never wavered or wilted, and his Bruins spent the rest of a celebratory night educating USC about city dominance.
"UCLA runs L.A., if you guys didn't hear last year," Hundley said with a grin.
Hundley passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another score, leading No. 11 UCLA past No. 24 USC 38-20 on Saturday night for the Bruins' third straight victory in the annual crosstown showdown.
Hundley stayed perfect in three starts against USC, throwing scoring passes to Devin Lucien, Thomas Duarte and Eldridge Massington as the Bruins (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) confirmed their Los Angeles supremacy and closed in on the Pac-12 South title with a one-sided romp.
The Bruins scored all their points in less than 30 minutes, and their defense limited the Trojans to just 200 yards and seven points in the first three quarters. Hundley punctuated his final scoring drive with a 15-yard TD run straight up the middle midway through the third quarter, flexing both arms in celebration.
"It's hard to express how it feels to win three times in a row versus your rival," Hundley said. "Everything that goes into the game, each year it gets bigger and bigger, and this year was to top it off. This was the biggest — the Pac-12 South (standings), everything was on the line. And to come in our house, have everybody there and to pull out a victory like that at home, it says a lot to this team."
Paul Perkins rushed for 93 yards and a score for UCLA, which hadn't won three straight over USC since 1998.
After five consecutive wins down the stretch of a slow-starting season, UCLA can advance to the Pac-12 title game with a victory over Stanford on Friday, staying in the national title hunt.
"No, we don't bask in moments," said UCLA coach Jim Mora, who has beaten three USC head coaches in three years by a combined 111-62. "We'll just move on to the next moment."
Cody Kessler passed for 214 yards for the Trojans (7-4, 6-3), who struggled mightily against UCLA's inspired defense.
"We got off to a bad start and failed from there," USC receiver George Farmer said. "It hurts a lot. It's a big rivalry, a lot of guys I grew up playing against, but I give all props to them. They played a hell of a game, came out very strong in the second half and deserved it."
Both teams looked sharp in their traditional home jerseys on a crisp night in Arroyo Seco, but not much went well for USC in its first rivalry game under new coach Steve Sarkisian after Sarao returned Hundley's only interception 17 yards for a score.
While the Trojans celebrated, Hundley calculated.
"After that happened, it was probably the calmest I was all game," Hundley said. "I was talking to (linebacker) Eric Kendricks, and we both said nobody was worried. We both said we were going to get the ball back, go score some touchdowns and call it a game. We didn't panic."
If Hundley heads to the NFL next year as planned, the quarterback who led Mora's revitalization of the program will have a perfect record against USC — one of his stated goals since his freshman year. With Hundley at the controls, UCLA has scored at least 35 points in three straight rivalry games for the first time in series history.
The UCLA defense stopped the Trojans on the game's opening drive, and Sarao returned Hundley's terrible throw down the UCLA sideline just 3:07 in. The Trojans forced another punt, but their early momentum evaporated when Nelson Agholor fumbled the return inside the USC 10.
Lucien was left wide open on Hundley's first TD throw. Just 39 seconds later, the quarterback threw down the middle to Duarte, who ran through USC's stumbling secondary for a 57-yard score.
USC evened it on Justin Davis' 2-yard TD catch, but Kendricks dived to intercept a tipped pass by Kessler moments later. The Bruins moved patiently for Massington's 13-yard TD catch 14 seconds before halftime, putting them up 24-14.
UCLA drove 84 yards for Perkins' 10-yard TD run right after halftime.
"It seemed like everybody was going to score tonight," Duarte said.
Josh Shaw made his season debut for USC, playing intermittently on defense and special teams. The senior defensive back and former team captain missed the first 10 games for lying about how he sprained his ankles in a preseason fall.