LOS ANGELES — UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel hopes a little momentum from the Bruins' best performance of the season will help out in their most daunting matchup of the year.
UCLA (2-2, 1-0 Pac-12) visits No. 6 Stanford on Saturday night hoping to put up a fight against the mighty Cardinal, who have surged past the Bruins and the rest of the conference during an improbable rise from doormats to dominance.
Neuheisel once envisioned a similar path for the Bruins, who believe they've got similarly tough academic standards and cultural hurdles in Westwood.
Instead, the coach is simply happy his club got back to .500 with a gritty 27-19 road victory at Oregon State last weekend.
"I don't think you can underestimate" the impact of UCLA's win over the Beavers, Neuheisel said Monday.
"I know there are people who will say it wasn't this and wasn't that, but ultimately when you come away with a victory, you just feel like more is possible," Neuheisel added. "Our guys are energized. They're looking forward to this week of practice. There will be a bounce in their step. It doesn't mean any extra points on Saturday, but you can feel good things are on the horizon."
Neuheisel's indefatigable optimism will be tested by a visit to Stanford, which beat the Bruins 35-0 last season in the Rose Bowl, an early-season defeat that cast a pall over the entire 4-8 campaign.
At least the Bruins are heading to The Farm coming off just their fourth win in their last 12 games. UCLA won its conference opener for the first time since 2007, taking an early 21-3 lead and holding off Oregon State's late charge.
Neuheisel credited the win to a strong running game, a solid defensive performance and the unflashy efficiency of quarterback Richard Brehaut, who will make his third start of the season against Stanford. Brehaut threw just 11 passes against the Beavers, but Neuheisel isn't worried about the imbalance, noting UCLA managed more than 14 yards per pass attempt — a solid barometer of the passing game's effectiveness.
"You see only 11 passes and you wonder if we're throwing enough," Neuheisel said. "But it comes down to your yards per attempt and your ability to counter your running game, and all those things were pretty good. Would I like to throw more? Absolutely, but everything in this game plan is based on situations, and as situations evolved in Saturday's game, I thought it was prudent to do what we did."
Stanford likely is the toughest matchup on UCLA's schedule this season. The Bruins avoided Oregon in the Pac-12's reconfigured schedule, and surging Washington also isn't on the Bruins' slate.
Neuheisel lavished praise on quarterback Andrew Luck, saying the Stanford junior is "unquestionably the best quarterback in the country." Luck passed for just 151 yards and two scores against the Bruins last season in Stanford's first win at the Rose Bowl since 1996.
The UCLA coach also knows all about Stanford's coaching staff, and not just from the 35-point thrashing he endured last season. Neuheisel worked alongside new Stanford coach David Shaw in 2005 with the Baltimore Ravens, and he recruited against Shaw's father, Willie, from 1989-91 while Neuheisel was a young UCLA assistant and Willie Shaw was Stanford's defensive coordinator.
"I battled his father years ago when I first broke into this business, and now I'm battling his son," Neuheisel said. "David has earned this opportunity, and I'm certainly pulling for him ... but not this week."