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Stanford loss isn't the end of UCLA's world, no matter how it feels

Friday's loss to Stanford cost Bruins a spot in Pac-12 title game, but Coach Jim Mora says team is progressing

Speaking in the afterglow of a third consecutive victory over USC, Coach Jim Mora looked toward UCLA's must-win game against Stanford and said, "Our world has to end on Friday."

Well, it did.

Stanford ended UCLA's hopes of playing for the Pac-12 Conference championship with a 31-10 win at the Rose Bowl.

UCLA has a fill-in-the-sponsor bowl game to play, but Friday afternoon's loss had a feeling of finality.

Cue the questions about 2015.

The Bruins expect do return nearly everybody. But they lose quarterback Brett Hundley, who essentially was the UCLA offense for two seasons.

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has yet to ponder life without Hundley, who has said he will declare for the NFL draft.

"I'm just trying to get through today," Mazzone said Friday.

Jerry Neuheisel got a head start in replacing Hundley, rallying the Bruins to victory against Texas after Hundley was injured. Josh Rosen, Bellflower St. John Bosco High's highly regarded quarterback, will enroll early and participate in spring practice. Asiantii Woulard, UCLA's third-string quarterback this season, remains an enigma.

That's the field. The winner, Mazzone said, will have help.

"We have been able to run the football pretty well," Mazzone said. "That will be a plus for whoever is our quarterback. All our offensive line and running backs come back. That should take some pressure off."

The Bruins also lose senior linebacker Eric Kendricks, whom sophomore linebacker Myles Jack has said is "the heart and soul of this team."

There are two main reasons why Arizona, and not UCLA, will be playing Oregon at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara for the Pac-12 title game on Friday: Arizona defeated Oregon during the regular season and UCLA lost to the Ducks. And the Bruins lost to Stanford.

Those are problem teams for UCLA. The Bruins allowed the Ducks' fastbreak offense to roll in a 42-30 victory that was not nearly as close as the score indicated. The Bruins were then pushed around by meat-and-potatoes Stanford.

UCLA has lost seven consecutive games to the Cardinal and six in a row to the Ducks.

"It's a Catch-22," UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. "Our conference is filled with athletes and spread offenses. Stanford challenges you in a different way. It's finding that balance of great athletes and guys who go out and compete physically with a team like this as well."

Development was one of Ulbrich's solutions. Mora and Mazzone also preached from that pulpit.

"We just need to grow up," Mazzone said.

Youth was the go-to response after each of UCLA's three losses this season. Of UCLA's 85 scholarship players, 50 are either sophomores or freshmen.

So, after the Stanford loss, Mora tried to assure UCLA fans that the world had not ended.

"We're making headway, even if it doesn't reflect in the score today," said Mora, whose team also lost to Utah last month. "We're not playing in the Pac-12 championship game, but we're on the right path."

Evolution

The Bruins had moments defensively. The defense scored three touchdowns in a 28-20 victory over Virginia in the season opener, largely stymied USC and held Arizona's powder keg offense to seven points.

But UCLA was also overwhelmed at times, as it was against Stanford.

Ulbrich said the off-season "will be a great opportunity to study what we have done, what was successful, what wasn't. I'm always willing to grow, study other defenses, not only in our conference but nationally. We'll add a few wrinkles here and there."

Numbers game

UCLA is 1-6 in games played a week or less after the Bruins face USC. The losses were by an average of 18 points.

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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