PASADENA, California — With No. 24 Southern California and No. 11 UCLA each sharing a penchant for playing games that have gone down to the wire this season, it was easy to assume the latest installment of the crosstown showdown would come down to another dramatic fourth quarter.
The Trojans never got the chance. After linebacker Anthony Sarao's interception return for a touchdown early in the first quarter, pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for first-year coach Steve Sarkisian did.
Brett Hundley passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another score, leading UCLA past USC 38-20 on Saturday night for the Bruins' third straight victory in the annual rivalry game.
Devin Lucien, Thomas Duarte and Eldridge Massington caught scoring passes 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 over their biggest rivals at a festive Rose Bowl.
"It hurts a lot," USC receiver George Farmer said. "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."
Paul Perkins rushed for 93 yards and a score for UCLA, which hadn't won three straight over USC since 1998.
The loss ended USC's slim hopes of winning the Pac-12 South. UCLA can advance to the Pac-12 title game against No. 3 Oregon with a victory over Stanford on Friday.
Cody Kessler passed for 214 yards for the Trojans (7-4, 6-3), who struggled mightily against UCLA's inspired defense.
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.
A meager UCLA pass rush that had struggled to replace first-round draft pick Anthony Barr for most of the season broke loose for a season-high six sacks, including three in the third quarter.
"Their defensive line was very effective," Sarkisian said. "They did a good job defending the run. They got Cody off his spot, made it difficult on Cody."
UCLA coach Jim Mora has beaten three USC head coaches in three years by a combined 111-62. With Hundley at the controls, UCLA has scored at least 35 points in three straight games against USC for the first time in series history.
It went bad quickly for the Trojans: They forced another punt after Sarao's score, but 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.
With safety Gerald Bowman spying Hundley as a runner, that left freshmen Leon McQuay III and John Plattenburg to contend with UCLA's wide-open passing offense. But the newcomers struggled with their footing and tackling all night long, with McQuay slipping on both of the Bruins' first-quarter touchdown passes.
USC evened it on Justin Davis' 2-yard TD catch, but UCLA's Eric 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, and Mora's defense continued to crush Sarkisian's offense.
"It was a bang-bang play; it was or wasn't," Sarkisian said of Kendricks' interception. "They took advantage. They got the score right at the end of the half, came right back out and got another seven to start the second half, we go three-and-out and they get seven more (and that) was really the entire ballgame."
USC finally made a 91-yard drive in the final minutes, capped by Buck Allen's TD run.
Allen rushed for 60 yards on 14 carries, damaging his hopes of becoming the first USC running back in 25 years to lead the conference in rushing.
Agholor had three catches for 24 yards to end a streak of four straight games over 100 yards receiving. That included back-to-back 200-yard performances.
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.
Bowman ultimately summed up the proceedings simply and effectively with just four words: "They deserved to win," he said.