By Randy Moore
Imagine that injuries force the top two quarterbacks to miss Tennessee's opener at UCLA. Then imagine that three starting offensive linemen get hurt and have to miss the game. Now imagine starting safety Demetrice Morley is suspended and replaced by a true freshman.
Not a pretty picture, is it? Well, that's the picture facing the Bruins Monday night in Pasadena. Their top two quarterbacks (Ben Olson, Patrick Cowan) are injured, along with three of their projected starting offensive linemen. The fact senior safety Bret Locket is serving a one-game suspension leaves UCLA with problems at quarterback, in the offensive line and in the secondary. That's a recipe for disaster right there.
Considering that UCLA already was reeling from a 6-7 disappointment in 2007 that got Karl Dorrell fired, the preseason attrition has turned a team looking to rebuild into a team looking to survive.
As Tennessee fans are painfully aware, the Vols tend to play very well when they're motivated and very poorly when they aren't. Fortunately for the faithful, the Big Orange appears highly motivated for this game. Quarterback Jonathan Crompton is eager to prove himself after rarely getting to play the past three years. An offensive line criticized for its run-blocking in 2007 is determined to rectify that situation. A productive but unsung tailback (Arian Foster) is looking to prove he's underrated. A receiver corps often characterized as lacking a big-play element is eager to prove otherwise. And a defense that was routinely riddled in 2007 is hellbent on achieving some redemption.
UCLA has two quality coordinators in Norm Chow (offense) and Dewayne Walker (defense) but both are limited in terms of personnel. The only other thing the Bruins have going for them is the home-field advantage, and it's of little benefit simply because UCLA boosters don't get worked up like SEC folk do.
Ultimately, the Vols have more talent and more motivation. The Bruins have more injuries and more question marks. Thus, Monday night's game offers fans a unique opportunity to watch the Orange blossom in a Rose Bowl.
THE CASE FOR UCLA
By: Jeffery Stewart
As a general rule west coast teams don't tend to hold up well to the SEC's intensity and humidity when playing in the deep south, but in their natural environment of Pacific breezes and blonde squeezes the California teams can be most inhospitable. Nothing about the L.A. environment sounds intimidating although it's sheer sprawling size alone makes it formidable on one level while it is glitzy, trendy, showy, beauty on another.
Ultimately, it's distracting, deceiving and disarming. The utter lack of anything resembling SEC game day atmosphere can lull teams into a false sense of security, particularly a favorite like Tennessee that is crossing three times zones.
With a new offense making it's debut, operated by a quarterback with one career start in a season opener at the famed Rose Bowl before a network audience any loss of focus could be amplified.
Pac 10 teams usually match up well with SEC opponents because of their overall team speed and outstanding skill players. It's the type of talent that can take advantage of a defense that is too aggressive and can counter with big plays. The combination of those factors could turn UT's attack style into a more cautious containing type defense. From there it's easy for a team that is more physical and deeper to get caught up in a tactical battle.
UCLA's offensive coordinator Norm Chow is as good as there is at dictating pace, as well as isolating and exploiting weaknesses. UT's linebackers will be tested early and the Bruins will try to force the Vols to defend the entire field.
There really isn't very much history of Tennessee playing on the coast which underscores how relatively rare it is and why it has the potential to be distracting. Just starting a game at 5:00 p.m. Pacific or 8:000 Eastern time could be an adjustment not to mention the disruption of sleep schedule that can always a challenge.
The Vols have played 10 games in California including the loss to Cal to open the 2007 season. Overall Tennessee is 2-7-1 in California including 0-3 vs. USC, 0-1 vs. Cal and 2-3 vs. UCLA. The Vols also opened their 1990 season against Colorado that ended in a 31-31 tie.
The Vols are 0-3-1 in season openers played in California. Having the experience of opening the 2007 in Berkley, Calif., may pay dividends for Tennessee on Monday, or may just remind them how hard it is to win a season opener so far from home.