PASADENA, Calif. -- When pundits talked about Stanford during the preseason, it was almost all about quarterback Andrew Luck and his scintillating NFL potential and how his skill set might be what leads the Cardinal into the thick of the Pac-10 race. Heisman Trophy runnerup Toby Gerhart was gone, so Stanford was Luck's team.
Luck didn't play terribly well -- at least in terms of the passing part of being a quarterback -- against UCLA on Saturday. And you'd think his completing less than 50 percent of his throws would mean a tough night for Stanford, seeing that he was now the lead talent in front of the resurgent program.
But this wasn't a tough night for Stanford (2-0, 1-0 Pac-10) in the least. At least if everyone can agree a 35-0 win isn't a tough night.
"I definitely did not play my best game by any means," said Luck, who completed 11 of 24 passes for 151 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. "I'm thankful for a great defensive performance."
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh disagreed with Luck and with the line of questioning about Luck's passing struggles. He said he was happy with Luck's night.
"He played winning quarterback football," Harbaugh noted.
What's that mean? It means leading an offense that converts 9 of 16 third down plays and is 1-for-1 on fourth down. It means leading an 18-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that eats 9:25 off the third-quarter clock and gives a team a 21-0 lead.
Then there's losing quarterback football. UCLA, which fell to 0-2, is getting that. The Bruins were 1-of-9 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down and finished with 233 total yards.
Kevin Prince was yanked to start the fourth quarter after completing just 6-of-12 for 39 yards. He was replaced by Richard Brehaut, and coach Rick Neuheisel wouldn't commit to a starting quarterback for next week's visit from Houston.
"We don't like making those kinds of comments right after the game," he said. "We'll watch game tape tomorrow before we make a decision."
Neuheisel wasn't noncommittal, however, on what he termed a "very difficult night for UCLA football."
"Tonight was an offensive disaster," he said.
And so we have two teams heading in different directions in the conference pecking order. Stanford is now good enough to win in the Rose Bowl, which it hasn't done since 1996. It also was the Cardinal's first road shutout since 1974. Defense was the major preseason concern. Through two games, Stanford has given up 17 points, seven of which came on special teams.
"We were telling the guys when they went in: 'Believe in trying to keep that score at zero,'" Stanford free safety Michael Thomas said.
Thomas forced a pair of fumbles with aggressive strips. The second pretty much ended the game. Just after the 18-play drive, UCLA took over on its 20-yard line. Prince ran for a yard to his left, but Thomas yanked the ball away from him and took the fumble back 21 yards for a TD and a 28-0 lead.
That's when Prince took a seat.
UCLA's evening was made even worse when running back Derrick Coleman spent 10 minutes flat and motionless on the field and then was removed on a stretcher after taking a head shot. Neuheisel said Coleman was "communicating and conscious." A UCLA spokesman said Coleman went to the hospital but had movement in all his extremities.
The game left the Bruins searching for answers. It left Stanford atop the Pac-10 standings.
Luck shrugged that off.
"For what it's worth, it's nice," he said. "But people don't look back and see who's leading the Pac-10 in Week 2. They look back to see who was in the Rose Bowl."
After the game, Stanford's players dashed over to the corner of the stadium full of red. The portion -- only 56,931 were in attendance -- that was blue had mostly been vacated by then. When the giddy Cardinal then walked up the tunnel toward their locker room -- grinning and boisterous -- it was hard not to see that, for the first time in a long, long time, they sure seemed at home in the Rose Bowl.