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UCLA makes strides but falls 45-19 at Stanford

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (12) catches a pass near the end zone against UCLA in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, in Stanford, Calif. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (12) catches a pass near the end zone against UCLA in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
By Antonio Gonzalez
AP Sports Writer / October 2, 2011

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STANFORD, Calif.—As UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel walked through the tunnel at Stanford Stadium, he patted his players on the back and gave them some words of encouragement to take home.

That's about all they can take with them.

While the Bruins made strides from last season's thorny Rose Bowl rout, a 45-19 loss to Andrew Luck and No. 6 Stanford on Saturday night only exposed the gap still lingering between the California schools.

"We have to learn we can be a great team," Neuheisel said.

At least the Bruins know what to aim for.

Luck threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns and padded his Heisman Trophy resume with the spectacular one-handed catch to keep Stanford perfect. He completed 23 of 27 passes and had the Cardinal (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) in cruise control to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 12 games.

"There's about five positions the guy can play," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We kind of like what he does at quarterback."

Shaw even allowed Luck to go up to the line of scrimmage in a hurry-up offense at one point and call his own plays.

No script. No questions. Just Luck.

"He called better plays than me," Shaw said.

Stepfan Taylor ran for 112 yards and two scores and Coby Fleener caught two touchdown passes in front of a rare sellout crowd of 50,360 at Stanford Stadium.

Richard Brehaut threw for 202 yards and had two touchdown passes to Joseph Fauria for the Bruins (2-2, 1-1), who had a better showing than a 35-0 loss to Stanford last year but still fell apart with a pair of fumbles.

"We have to keep our heads up. We played our butts off," Brehaut said. "There was just a couple things that made the difference. And in a close game, you can't let the other team pull away like that."

The Bruins' Pistol offense flexed its muscles marching down to the goal line on the game's opening drive. But the strong start hit a a wall when David Parry stuffed Brehaut on a quarterback sneak just inches from the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 2, leaving Luck the length of the field on his first drive.

No problem.

The strong-armed and quick-footed quarterback added another highlight for Heisman voters to consider this season.

Luck handed the ball off to Tyler Gaffney and sprinted out to the right side between the cornerbacks and safeties. Gaffney ran left and flipped the ball to Drew Terrell on a reverse, and the receiver threw to Luck along the far sideline.

Luck made a one-handed catch and tiptoed the sideline with his left foot for a 13-yard reception that officials initially ruled incomplete. After a review, Luck had only the second reception of his career and first since a loss at Arizona on Oct. 17, 2009.

"I'm sure it was incomplete at the next level," said Luck, the projected No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL draft. "Glad we're playing with the one-foot in rule."

The one-handed catch might not have even been the most impressive on the drive.

Coby Fleener snatched a one-handed, 18-yard touchdown pass from Luck to put the Cardinal ahead 7-0 late in the first quarter. That capped a 16-play, 99-yard drive that spanned more than 8 minutes and actually gained 119 total yards because of penalties.

"I knew I had to one-up him," Fleener joked.

Every time the Bruins started to threaten, they imploded with mistakes.

Chase Thomas jarred the ball loose from Brehaut on UCLA's next possession. After a 15-yard personal foul penalty, Stanford only had to go 28 yards for another score, ending with Taylor's 2-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 lead.

The Bruins finally found their rhythm just before halftime. Brehaut showed poise in the pocket and connected with Fauria on a 12-yard TD catch with 8 seconds remaining to trim Stanford's lead to 17-7.

Any hope UCLA had for a second-half comeback ended in a hurry.

Taylor Embree fumbled a punt return late in the third quarter when Ty Montgomery popped the ball loose and recovered it. The Cardinal took over and punched it in the end zone again on Gaffney's 16-yard run out of a wildcat formation to go ahead 31-13.

The Bruins defense also picked the worst week of the season to be short-handed. Starting cornerback Sheldon Price and backup safeties Dalton Hilliard and Alex Mascarenas were held out with injuries.

The Cardinal had a key member sidelined, too.

Stanford linebackers spread eye black liberally across their faces to honor the signature look by leading tackler Shayne Skov, who's out for the season after tearing a ligament in his left knee in the previous game at Arizona. Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley split time in Skov's place.

Not that the injuries would have likely changed the outcome.

"Yeah," Brehaut said, "that's the best team we've played as far as physicality and getting after us."

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP