PALO ALTO — The Cardinal has begun to make a habit of blasting the Bruins' dreams into little pieces, and the Farm has become a place UCLA enters with great hopes but exits with physical scars and emotional bruises.
The ninth-ranked Bruins arrived Saturday at Stanford Stadium — site of their Pac-12 Conference title game loss to the Cardinal last December — undefeated in two conference games and five overall. They departed with a fistful of X-Rays after losing two offensive linemen to injuries and the knowledge that as good as they had seemed, as good as they might have thought they were, they couldn't respond when the Cardinal punished them physically and stifled their offense to prevail, 24-10.
BOX SCORE: Stanford 24, UCLA 10
The loss that all but certainly will drop the Bruins out of the top 10 was the first step in their toughest stretch this season. Next week they play No. 2 Oregon at Eugene.
"It doesn't get any easier for us, as I'm sure you'll all point out," Coach Jim Mora said during his postgame news conference.
Now that you mention it, no, it doesn't get any easier.
"There's a long way to go," running back Malcolm Jones said. "We've got a lot of work to do this coming week to make sure we're really prepared because Oregon is a whole different team than Stanford. Completely different style. We've got to really get on top of our game and learn from these mistakes that we made."
UCLA wide receiver Shaquelle Evans pointed out that Stanford had responded well in beating UCLA a week after a loss at Utah had dropped the Cardinal out of the top 10. The biggest lesson the Bruins could take from Saturday's loss, Evans said, "is just basically to know how to bounce back."
The Bruins are going to have to make a monumental bounce against Oregon, which was 6-0 before facing Washington State Saturday night.
"Going on the road to play them, a team that's trying to play for a national championship, a lot of aspirations for the season," Evans said. "So we've got to find a way to dig deep and try to come out with a win."
Are the Bruins still in that national championship conversation?
"I think we still are," Evans said. "We basically have to run the table, starting this week with a big game against the No. 2 team in the country, on the road. That could be a big resume booster."
That's all, just run the table.
The Bruins combined emotion, persistence, and sheer guts to go 5-0 and earn a place at the adults' table after years of being relegated to kiddie chairs. But there are no more tasty appetizers left on their schedule, no more Nevadas and New Mexico States to fatten up on. This is where they will truly be measured, and they know it.
That process began Saturday, really. They took enough penalties to knock quarterback Brett Hundley's rhythm off-kilter while he struggled behind an injury-depleted offensive line, and they squandered too many chances to get back into a game that Stanford didn't put away until late. Hundley, who passed for 410 yards against California last week, passed for 192 on Saturday. The rushing game netted 74 yards.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he should have made a more concerted effort to get the Bruins' running game established earlier and blamed himself for the seven penalties for 43 yards that disrupted the offensive rhythm. It's noble of him to assume responsibility, but he wasn't jumping offside or making false starts.
"We're a good football team. We're a good offense," Mazzone said. "We just had a day where too many of the mistakes that hurt good offenses — hurt any offense — we had today."
What could have been a strong declaration by the Bruins about their top-10 intentions produced more questions than answers. But Mora said he looks more closely at the big picture.
"I don't think any one game ever really defines you, whether you've arrived or you're not very good or you are very good," he said. "I think it's your body of work. I think our body of work is pretty good. It's got to get better.
"At the end of the season we'll see where we are, but I've said that before; I'm not into statement games one way or the other. There's a process to building something. There's a process to going through the season. Today we weren't good enough. We'll get better."
They'll have to, if they want to regain their seat at the adults' table.