PALO ALTO — UCLA safety Tony Dye had a right eye that looked perfectly suited for a "Rocky" movie. Free safety Rahim Moore left the game in the second quarter with a concussion. Linebacker Reggie Carter sat in front of his locker too drained to strip off his uniform.
The Bruins carried some day-before-Christmas eagerness into their Pacific 10 Conference opener at Stanford on Saturday. But there was plenty of weariness after a 24-16 loss.
The Bruins, 3-1 overall, 0-1 in conference play, expected a physical game and Stanford gave them a physical game. UCLA just wasn't quite up to the task.
By the time Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart was done leaving his cleat prints up and down Bruins' backsides, it was pretty clear that UCLA wasn't going to play for the Pac-10 title this season.
"It's a reality check," cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "We were riding a high, undefeated. We hadn't had to fight that much adversity. It's probably a good pill for us to swallow."
A handful of aspirin wouldn't hurt either.
The Cardinal (4-1, 3-0) battered away and flirted with trampling away with the game, taking a 24-6 lead with 5:55 left in the third quarter.
The Bruins scored a touchdown and field goal to make it interesting, getting the ball back with 3:06 remaining in the game, needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the score. But quarterback Kevin Craft had his arm hit by linebacker Will Powers and his fourth-down pass fell harmlessly to the ground.
That left the unranked Cardinal atop the conference standings and Coach Jim Harbaugh with a chip on his shoulder and a dare-you attitude.
"I think there's been a thing around the country with coaches and players, where Stanford is maybe not the preferred BCS-type football school that they think of," Harbaugh said. "I think our guys have proven different."
Stanford, 4-1 for the first time since 2001, can still dream of a Rose Bowl. UCLA will readjust postseason plans, and Emerald Bowl officials were in attendance Saturday.
"We had a vision of going undefeated," Moore said. "Sometimes visions get blurry."
Moore's did, as he left the game after leveling a hit on Stanford tight end Coby Fleener. Moore was called for a personal foul on the third-down play, erasing an incomplete pass and extending a Cardinal drive. Gerhart plugged away from there, carrying Verner into the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown run for a 14-3 lead with five minutes left in the first half.
Gerhart, who entered the game as the nation's third-leading rusher, finished with 134 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that was ranked ninth nationally against the run.
"He's strong, but he also has good vision," UCLA's Carter said. "He has quick feet, so he gets where he needs to go. When he runs, he runs with a purpose. If you don't get your whole body in front of him, you're going to miss. We had way too many missed tackles today; guys weren't doing their job."
Said Harbaugh: "They had two weeks to prepare. They seemed very confident they were going to shut him right down, and it didn't happen."
Stanford gained 174 yards rushing. The Cardinal used formations with an extra offensive lineman and dominated so much that the Bruins' three leading tacklers were from the secondary: Verner, Dye and Sheldon Price.
"They have a heavy bunch up front," UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said.
Yet, the Cardinal also scorched the Bruins with two big pass plays, quarterback Andrew Luck twice connecting with Ryan Whalen. The first went for 40 yards; the second, on a flea flicker, went for 46. Gerhart scored touchdowns after both long gains.
UCLA couldn't match that efficiency. The Bruins, with 299 total yards, ran only seven plays the first 10 minutes of the third quarter as Stanford pulled away.
"You've got to score, because they are going to hold onto the ball and run the clock down," said Craft, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 204 yards.
Gerhart made that keep-away game possible. "He's a load, but he's going to be a sore load tomorrow," Neuheisel said. The Bruins, though, will be a little sorer.
"It's going to hurt tonight and it's going to hurt tomorrow," Carter said. "Then we have to forget about this."