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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Jim Mora's UCLA Bruins are gaining but not there yet

UCLA played Stanford, Oregon tough for a half but lost. Despite Saturday's 42-14 loss to Ducks, Bruins are moving closer to Pac-12 elite.

October 26, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • UCLA running back Paul Perkins is stopped by Oregon's Taylor Hart, left, and Brian Jackson, right, during the first half at Autzen Stadium.
UCLA running back Paul Perkins is stopped by Oregon's Taylor Hart,… (Don Ryan / Associated Press )

EUGENE, Ore. — So what we know about UCLA is it trailed Stanford by three at the half last week in Palo Alto and, Saturday night, took Oregon into intermission tied at 14-all.

It was so unexpected it brought to mind that famous headline "Harvard beats Yale, 29-29!"

UCLA was not half bad, but also was not good enough.

PHOTOS: UCLA falls to Oregon, 42-14

Second-year Coach Jim Mora has pushed his program through the front door of the Pac-12's two best football lobbies but still can't avoid the trap-door finishes.

Oregon won in the end, a convincing 42-14 victory at Autzen Stadium.

The final score was more important for Oregon than it was for UCLA.

Oregon is in a national-title chase the Bruins hope to be in someday. The Ducks are No. 2 in the major polls but were No. 3 in the first Bowl Championship Series standings behind Alabama and Florida State.

Those teams scored pummeling wins against Tennessee and North Carolina State, respectively.

Oregon has to keep crushing quality Pac-12 opponents and wait for its BCS computer numbers to catch up — which could happen as soon as Sunday.

UCLA needs to discard the final result and assess the defeat in proper context.

The Bruins made Oregon work. They started three freshmen on the offensive line and played the No. 2 team, straight up, for almost three quarters.

They held Oregon well under its season per-game average of 57.6 points.

UCLA scored first, blocked a punt and recovered two fumbles.

In 99% of other venues that leads to victory.

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley threw a couple of horrific interceptions but also injected fear in the opposing team's game plan.

He passed for only 64 yards but rushed for 72.

"He made two big plays with his feet I wish he would not have," Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. "That's a good football team. He's a good football player and Jim Mora is a good football coach."

Aliotti said his defense played as well as it has in a long time. "And we needed it for a while," said Aliotti, who was UCLA's defensive coordinator in 1998.

UCLA made Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota play into the fourth quarter for only the third time this season.

Mariota said he faced UCLA defenders who "are going to play on Sundays."

Oregon won comfortably but only by winning the fourth quarter, 21-0.

The Ducks finished with their usual frenetic scoring blitz, but most opponents don't make it to halftime.

Saturday's halftime was tight and taut.

After the game, Oregon players talked about needing a test like this after so many easy games.

"We actually liked it," said receiver Bralon Addison. "It made us stay focused."

Did you hear that? UCLA made Oregon stay focused.

Oregon is elite, maybe the best team in America. The Ducks crank up tempo and pressure until you break.

This is a different UCLA team than the one that got routed in Eugene two years ago in the first Pac-12 title game.

Those Bruins didn't scare Oregon, but these Bruins did.

"They're a good team," Oregon safety Avery Patterson said of the Bruins. "We may see them at the end of the season."

Patterson didn't act like he was looking forward to it.

Let's do a reality check: UCLA started the season 5-0 and rose to No. 9 a couple weeks ago.

Consecutive defeats to top-10 teams, though, confirmed the Bruins are only a second-10 team.

Even UCLA's best win of the season, at Nebraska, got dented at bit Saturday when the Cornhuskers lost at unranked Minnesota.

The question with UCLA is not what happened Saturday.

The question is, "What happens now?"

This is a critical moment in the learning curve under Mora.

This season is already strewn with cautionary tales.

Washington, just like UCLA, played Stanford and Oregon tough but the effort seemed to take everything out of the Huskies.

Washington then got clobbered at Arizona State and is now trying to salvage what seemed like such a promising season.

Northwestern came within 10 minutes of defeating Ohio State on a Saturday night, in Evanston, with ESPN's "GameDay" in town.

Instead of going to 5-0, though, the Wildcats lost that game and then three more — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa — to fall to 0-4 in the Big Ten.

What UCLA needed was to get out of Oregon with a healthy quarterback and some dignity, which the Bruins accomplished.

UCLA needs to improve to 6-2 with a win against weakling Colorado next week and then get ready to attack the last four games: at Arizona, Washington, Arizona State and at USC.

The Pac-12 is as deep as it's been in years and there are fewer "gimme" games on the schedule.

The good news is other teams are also saying that about UCLA.

"I saw it on film," Addison, Oregon's sophomore receiver, said of the Bruins. "I watched a couple games on TV. We got exactly what we expected — a great team."

Well, maybe not great, but certainly good. Good enough to get better between now and December. Good enough to win the Pac-12 South and earn a return trip, possibly, to Eugene for the conference title game.

UCLA has lost three straight games to Stanford and hasn't quite reached Oregon's level.

It doesn't mean, though, that the Bruins can't get there.

They just aren't there yet.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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