STANFORD -- The first signs of recovery came Sunday afternoon -- a day off -- with the best-attended, day-after-game weightlifting session in two years.

That was followed by a series of practices in which "everything had a little more zest,'' according to tailback Tyler Gaffney.

By week's end, with the upset loss to Utah still fresh, No. 13 Stanford did what it has done so often in recent years: It restored order.

With smothering defense, an overpowering running game and an astonishing touchdown catch by receiver Kodi Whitfield, the Cardinal thumped ninth-ranked UCLA 24-10 on Saturday to maintain control of its destiny in the Rose Bowl race.

"Guys wanted to turn the page,'' coach David Shaw said, "and the advice I gave them was, 'Bring last week with you. Bring the lessons learned about how hard you have to play, how smart you have to play, and how you have to finish.'

"Last week, we got beat. This week, we had to come back.''

The victory improved Stanford's record to 11-1 at home against ranked opponents since the start of the 2009 season.

Perhaps more impressive is the Cardinal's string of bounce-back wins: It has not lost back-to-back games in four years.

"It's second nature,'' linebacker Trent Murphy said. "It's how we practice, how we train in the offseason. Our goal is to fight adversity.''

One week after getting sliced and diced by Utah, the Cardinal held UCLA to 36 points under its season average.

The Bruins gained just 266 yards and converted only 33 percent of their third-down opportunities.

Quarterback Brett Hundley broke loose for one long run but never found his rhythm in the pocket behind a makeshift offensive line. He was intercepted twice by safety Jordan Richards.

"Stanford did a really good job of bringing pressure -- not even blitzing, but using their front four defensive line,'' Hundley said. "They did what they had to do.''

The Cardinal offense returned to the ground-and-pound approach that has been at the core of the playbook for the past five years. Stanford ran on first-and-10, third-and-medium and everything in between as Gaffney set career highs with 36 carries and 171 yards.

"We wanted to make sure that we continued the body blows even on third down,'' Shaw said. "Run the ball between the tackles, trapping and blocking."

The defenses dominated a first half that ended with Stanford leading 3-0. But the Cardinal (6-1, 4-1) took control midway through the third quarter when quarterback Kevin Hogan found Whitfield for a 30-yard touchdown strike.

The connection, which gave Stanford a 10-3 lead, was more about the catch than the throw: Whitfield went high to make his amazing one-handed grab -- one of the best of the season anywhere in the country -- despite close coverage by the Bruins (5-1, 2-1).

"I tried to take a little air out of it and give him a chance,'' Hogan said. "Unbelievable play.''

Stanford added to its lead four minutes later. Following Richards' first interception, the Cardinal returned to the air: Receiver Devon Cajuste hauled in a difficult 34-yard catch on the right sideline that gave Stanford possession at UCLA's 2-yard line. Three plays later, Gaffney barreled in for a touchdown that pushed Stanford's lead to 17-3.

The Bruins responded quickly, with Hundley leading a 75-yard drive that culminated in a short touchdown pass to receiver Shaq Evans.

Stanford had a chance to extend its lead to 10 points midway through the fourth quarter. But backup kicker Conrad Ukropina, who was playing for injured starter Jordan Williamson, missed a 46-yard field goal.

It made no difference, as the Cardinal defense dominated down the stretch to secure Stanford's sixth consecutive win over the Bruins -- and the third since late November.

"They have a good handle on what we do, and we have a good handle on what they do,'' Gaffney said. "It comes down to who's tougher.''

  • Cajuste suffered a knee injury that Shaw described as "not as bad as originally thought.''

  • Williamson is questionable for Saturday's game at Oregon State.

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

    SATURDAY'S GAME
    Stanford at Oregon State,
    7:30 p.m. ESPN