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UCLA loses game to Oregon, 42-30, and its place in national spotlight

UCLA loses game to Oregon, 42-30, and its place in national spotlight
Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley watches the ball tumble away after he was hit by Ducks linebacker Tony Washington (91) and defensive lineman T.J. Daniel in the first quarter. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Albuquerque is nice in December.

Las Vegas is always fun.

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A return trip to El Paso would probably be out of the question, but who can say for sure?

UCLA appears to have any number of possible destinations this holiday bowl season. But there are places that may now be out of the Bruins' price range. Such as Santa Clara's new stadium for the Pac-12 championship game. And the Rose Bowl for the national semifinal game on New Year's Day.

The 18th-ranked Bruins finally seemed to buckle under the hefty expectations placed on them before the season. Their 42-30 loss to No. 12 Oregon on Saturday left them easy prey to those who had placed them so high in the first place.

"It doesn't matter what people out there talk about," Coach Jim Mora said. "That's the world we live in. It's what makes sports fun. It gives people something to talk about. But what matters to us is what happens within our walls."

The walls may be closing in. The Bruins are certainly not out of the Pac-12 South Division race, but the road ahead is extremely bumpy after Saturday's loss.

The game began with 80,139 in the Rose Bowl. Those who remained until the end were either Oregon fans or killing time until their dinner reservations in Pasadena.

They were treated to a three-touchdown finish by the Bruins. It was a nice we-didn't-quit moment, but what happened at the beginning and in the middle was what mattered.

Oregon had a 42-10 lead by the time the fourth quarter was a minute old, and an opportunity was lost.

"This was definitely one of those games that could shift the perception of our program," linebacker Myles Jack said. "It was what we worked for, one of those program-changing games. When you think of top Pac-12 teams, you think of Oregon and Stanford. Games like this [are] what kind of flips the script."

Instead the game rewrote a script already in place. The Bruins were high on everyone's preseason list. Many predicted they would be one of the four teams in the new College Football Playoff. Some even tagged the Bruins as potential national champions.

That was all labeled "noise" by Mora and UCLA players. Yet, noise can be hard to ignore.

"It got to the point where we couldn't ignore it," Jack said. "Everyone was talking about it. Everybody had high hopes and expectations. You can filter it out as much as we want, but at the end of the day, we were going to hear it."

Jack admitted, "I'm sure it was in the back of our minds. We felt like we should be as good as people said, so it was, 'Let's go out and show them.'"

Instead, what the Bruins (4-2 overall, 1-2 in Pac-12 play) have to show is seven consecutive losses to the Ducks (5-1, 2-1). UCLA has lost six straight against Stanford.

"We've won tight games, we just didn't win this one today," Mora said. "Oregon and Stanford have given us some problems. So we have to find a way to get over that hump.

"We're still in hunt. If we find a way to get to the conference championship game, then we will have ascended."

The Bruins need help from others at this point after back-to-back losses at home, to Utah and Oregon.

And they need to get better defensively.

Oregon rolled up 468 yards, 258 on the ground. Quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 17 of 27 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for 75 yards and two scores. He had been sacked 12 times in the previous two games, but the Bruins failed to get to him Saturday.

The day for the Bruins could be summed up on two sequences.

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley fumbled. The Ducks scored. Mariota fumbled. The Ducks scored.

Hundley lost the ball when sacked in the first quarter and the Ducks recovered. It led to an 8-0 Oregon lead, as Mariota ran 13 yards for a touchdown, followed by Taylor Alie's two-point conversion run.

Mariota dropped the ball on a third-quarter drive. It bounced back to him for a 23-yard dribble-drive touchdown run and a 28-10 lead.

The Bruins kept pace on the stat sheet with 553 yards, but not on the scoreboard. Royce Freeman's two short touchdown runs pushed Oregon's lead to 32 points.

"The beautiful thing is, it was our second loss, but it is still early," Jack said. "We have half the season to go. We have to win out, win all games. We have to work harder. Don't just focus on the game, focus on each and every day leading up to the game. When we get to the game, make it happen."

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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