UCLA's week-by-week mentality can sometimes border on absurdity.
Less than two weeks ago, the Bruins lost to Arizona State, spoiling a 4-0 start that had vaulted them to No. 7 in The Associated Press poll. It was an ugly affair, one that marked their eighth loss to lower-ranked team under head coach Jim Mora, and their sixth against an unranked opponent. To make matters more embarrassing, the 38-23 decision came before a season-high crowd of 80,113, as well as two million more television viewers.
Yet, when asked about recovering from that game this week, UCLA receiver Eldridge Massington looked puzzled.
"We lost?" he said.
Yes, to hear him tell it, the No. 18 Bruins (4-1, 1-1) exist in an alternate football universe, one in which past wins and losses are as relevant as Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" might be to a Labrador retriever.
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Perhaps that amnesia will come in handy again on Thursday when the team visits No. 15 Stanford. If UCLA's ascent under Mora were a video game, then the Cardinal would be the final boss. They are the bully on the playground, the monster in the closet. They are the rock to the Bruins' Sisyphus.
Mora has not beaten Stanford (4-1, 3-0) in four tries, and all but one of those losses have come by at least two touchdowns. In 2012, the Cardinal started the three-game losing streak that soured the end to Mora's debut season. In 2013, UCLA became a top-10 team for the first time in eight years -- and promptly face-planted at Stanford. Last fall, David Shaw's weakest team was the one that kept the Bruins out of the Pac-12 title game.
These are not the things that Mora wants to dwell on.
"Once you start making one game more important than the other," he said, "you open yourself up to inconsistency."
Not everyone toed the company line.
"The wrong thing would be just to forget about it," said linebacker Deon Hollins. "[Linebackers coach Scott] White even told us earlier: 'Make sure you watch the games from a couple of years back. Feel it. Embrace it. Remember the feeling that you had at the end of the game.' That's going to be important. I wouldn't say we're harping on the game, but definitely feeling the disappointment from last year and trying to circumvent it. ..."Me, personally, I think it's the biggest one to date. Coach Mora talks about it all the time. No one expects us to go out there and do anything. It's going to be big to go out there and show the pundits what we're about."
In many ways, UCLA and Stanford represent opposing movements. The up-tempo spread against the jam-it-down-your-throat, pro-style offense. The program that long lay dormant despite its prime location, and the one that rose mostly in front of half-empty stands. But perhaps nothing better encapsulates their philosophical rift than their current quarterbacks.
Stanford -- which once redshirted Andrew Luck behind Tavita Pritchard -- is relying on fifth-year senior Kevin Hogan, a former three-star recruit who has become an efficient conductor of the offense.
"Our guys know that coming in you're not going to play as a freshman," said Shaw, who is in his fifth season as Stanford's head coach and his ninth as part of the staff. "You're going to learn what to do. When you show signs that you're ready to play, we're going to give you a little bit at a time to get you going. And then once you're ready to take over, you take over and we let you go. We've sold that process to all of our guys. They believe in it. We believe in it.
"There are guys that let you know early on that they want a chance to play. No matter how talented some of those guys are, we say, 'Hey, you know what, there might be a better opportunity for you to play earlier somewhere else. We understand that.'"
Shaw wasn't explicitly referring to UCLA's Josh Rosen, but he may as well have. Stanford did not offer the five-star quarterback a scholarship, and many say that was due to the teenager's personality and ego. (Shaw disputed this last week.)
Averaging 248.6 yards per game and completing 60.7 percent of his passes, the 18-year-old out of Bellflower St. John Bosco is trying to prove himself the exception to the usual freshman struggles. He is also fourth in the Pac-12 with more than 33 pass attempts per game, showing that UCLA has little inclination to take it slow. Asked in Week 1 if Rosen would be put on a "leash" for his career debut, Mora was indignant.
"What do you mean by leash?" he said then. "We don't put leashes on our players. They're not dogs. They're people. ... I want him to friggin' win. I want him to play his ass off and win. I don't think you know me very well. We don't restrict -- we go."
Where exactly the Bruins are going this season remains unclear. With their talent, they shouldn't yet be counted out of the conference race even after multiple injuries. Still, they need to show themselves more capable of upsetting a higher-ranked opponent, which Mora has done only three times in the regular season. They to prove they can be more than a perennial nine- or 10-win team.
Again, Stanford stands in the way.
This article was written by Jack Wang from Los Angeles Daily News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.