That perfect season is gone.
But the No. 12 UCLA Bruins don't have time to lament what could've been.
Because they're still in what-could-be territory despite last week's lopsided loss to the Oregon Ducks.
"You can't let one game equal two games," UCLA head coach Chip Kelly told reporters. "I think sometimes that your attitude is you're feeling sorry for yourself, but we don't get that around here."
Not with a Pac-12 title still within reach and a one-loss record to protect in staying in the dark-horse hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
There's just no room for stewing over the Week 8 45-30 loss to the rival Ducks that knocked the six-win Bruins from the ranks of the unbeaten.
They have another test — and another stubborn Pac-12 rival — in front of them late Saturday when the Stanford Cardinal visit the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
OK, so Stanford — at 3-4 overall and 1-4 in conference action — doesn't exactly scare anybody like the Quack Attack does. Not even on the Saturday before Halloween.
But there is a sense again of "Fear the Tree" with their winning efforts — including their first Pac-12 triumph in 11 games dating back a calendar year — the last few weeks.
Indeed, Stanford has been a surprise lately with two wins — both low scoring — against stiff-ish competition after opening the campaign with a win and then four losses. The recent efforts have been 16-14 and 15-14 wins, respectively, over the host Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the visiting Arizona State Sun Devils.
"We're finding our groove," Stanford head coach David Shaw told reporters. "This is how hard we play and how hard we push to finish in those games. The ball bounced our way a couple times, which is great. The ball bounced against us a couple times, too, throughout the season."
Stanford at No. 12 UCLA
When Stanford Has the Ball
What does it say about your offense when the most lethal weapon is your kicker?
Well … it means, at the very least, you've got a money guy when it matters.
"Of course. I believe I am the best kicker in America — I kind of have to," Stanford junior Joshua Karty told reporters. "A lot of that is due to (special-teams coordinator Pete Alamar). He kind of pulled me aside before the season and kind of reinforced why I'm here and who I am and just helped me with my mentality a lot."
Whatever's being said, it's working for Karty, who's accounted for 25 of Stanford's 31 points in the Week 7 and 8 wins. He booted field goals of 45, 43, and 43 yards to go along with a convert to topple Notre Dame. And then the North Carolina native followed with three-pointers of 44, 36, 44, 36, and 47 yards — for a school-record five field goals in a game— to dismiss the Sun Devils.
"It feels really cool when people come up to you and say you got ice in your veins and stuff," said the kicker, who has not missed a field-goal try in 12 attempts this season and has earned the Pac-12 special-teams player-of-the-week honor twice in the last three weeks. "It's a lot of fun. I kind of try to embrace it as much as possible. It helps the confidence, for sure, and just can't wait to get back out there next week against the Bruins."
To beat the high-powered Bruins and a defense that has been better than it showed in Eugene, they'll need more than just Karty to be at his best.
But it wasn't as if Stanford didn't move the ball in their recent low-scoring victories. Against Arizona State, the Cardinal drove for 398 yards and racked up 28 first downs in the game but just couldn't score.
Junior quarterback Tanner McKee was solid with a career-high 33 completions for 320 yards. And junior receiver John Humphreys hauled in eight balls for a career-best 90 yards. McKee also found junior tight end Benjamin Yurosek and senior receiver Elijah Higgins a combined 16 times for 78 and 73 yards respectively.
"It was enough to get the (win), but obviously not good enough moving forward," McKee told reporters. "Lot of things to work on, and a lot of things to get better at."
In the win one week earlier over Notre Dame, McKee and Co. moved the ball for 385 yards and 21 first downs but came away with just one touchdown.
When UCLA Has the Ball
Scoring hasn't been a problem for the Bruins. They stand 14th in the nation, averaging just a shade under 40 points per game.
But the 30 posted last week just didn't cut it against high-octane Oregon.
"I hate losing, I know a lot of guys on this team hate losing, and I know coach Kelly hates losing, so we don't wanna feel like that ever," UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson told reporters in the lead-up to what he hopes is a rebound Saturday. "(Losing's) never the goal, so we're always trying to go out there and put on the best show for our fans, for sure."
With the offensive firepower of Kelly's charges, that seems more than likely for what's hoped to be a bounce-back for the Bruins.
Such a performance would be led by DTR himself. The senior talent is in the Heisman Trophy conversation because of both his arm and legs, totaling more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and accounting for 21 touchdowns. Of the nation's QBs, only Michigan's J.J. McCarthy has a better completion rate (77.1 percent) than DTR's 73.8 percent.
The Bruins' offense has one tall target — and a top one, too — in 6-foot-5 senior receiver Jake Bobo, who's got 486 yards and six TDs on 32 grabs. He reached 100 yards on eight receptions in last week's loss. And then there's small-ish Kazmier Allen, a 5-foot-9 junior receiver with 36 catches, including 14 in his last two outings.
In what's a well-balanced offense, UCLA's aerial attack is matched by the ground game of all-conference senior running back Zach Charbonnet. His 766 rushing yards, including 151 last week, make him one of the country's best, underscored by an eye-popping 7.1-yard per-rush average — sixth best in the country.
Pass-heavy Pac-12 foes have been able to run well on Stanford's defense, so the game bodes well for Charbonnet.
But when hasn't a game this year boded well for UCLA's offense? It's a firecracker, ranking 12th in the nation with nearly 500 total yards per tilt — good enough to make them at least conference contenders.
"We have way bigger goals than that, and I think we can still accomplish those if we just do our jobs on a weekly basis," Thompson-Robinson told reporters. "But I think, right now, our main focus is trying to go 1-0 against Stanford and beating them."
Beating Stanford has not come easy for UCLA in recent years. The Bruins lead the all-time series 46-43-3, but the Cardinal has won 12 of the last 14 meetings.
The thing is this is not your older brother's Bruins. It's Kelly's best edition — including being 3-1 in conference play — since arriving in SoCal in 2018.
"One thing I told those guys as I walked off the tunnel going into the (Oregon) game is it had been 357 days since we lost our last game," Kelly told reporters. "So I think we have to understand that the last loss we had before that was on Oct. 30, 2021, and I think they righted the ship and did a great job finishing out the last season with three wins and then started off this season with six wins.
"There was only one other team in the country — Clemson — that had more wins than us over that span of time, so this is a really good football team. Our whole mantra since the beginning of the season is 'Pick your head up … and we'll see if our body of work is good enough for us to have an opportunity to continue to play after December.'"
Kelly and Co. are certainly good enough to pick up their heads from last week and roll a weak Stanford squad. But Shaw's crew has been on the upswing, particularly in keeping offensively gifted teams from finding the endzone.
"I think we're a better football team right now, even though we're lacking in a couple of places — a couple of starters not being with us," Shaw told reporters. "I think as an entire team, we're playing better against the run. Offensively, we found our groove a couple of different ways."
But is it enough to upend UCLA again? Not this year.
Prediction: UCLA 35, Stanford 16
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