Most mysterious was UT's decision to leave Jonathan Crompton under center often with an empty backfield and UCLA overloaded in the middle. The Bruins declared war on ground zero from the beginning with the intent of shutting down the inside run and getting almost instant push into the pocket. A strategy made successful by a powerful pair of UCLA tackles and a strong defense that took risks and got away with them.
Often when it appeared the Bruins had a numbers advantage in the center of the line the Vols ran medium range routes when getting the ball to the flank ASAP seemed to be in order. The Vols began to do that on their last two scoring drives and developed a little rhythm in the process.
Similarly once Tennessee's backs, particularly Montario Hardesty, could get outside the tackles there were large patches of emerald green to be gobbled up against light resistance. The Vols ripped off some nice runs but may have lost patience with it as UCLA began to get penetration and force some key losses.
In short the Bruins did a great job of disrupting the timing of the west coast phase of UT's multiple offense. The passing game which requires receivers to get off the line cleanly and into their routes quickly. They didn't always do that. When they did Crompton either misfired or the protection broke down. UT's offense just wasn't able to get consistent traction due to busted assignments, procedure penalties, turnovers or a myriad of other mistakes.
Some of the mistakes can be chalked up to first game jitters. Others were forced by an aggressive, athletic and opportunistic UCLA defense. The fact it was the first time UT had ever run the offense against competition is reason enough to explain many of the problems. The Vols should continue to improve as they acclimate to the system, but they can expect tougher future opponents with similar approaches.
As in any disappointing loss it's easy to overlook the positives. Tennessee did maintain a balanced attack with 189 yards passing, and 177 yards rushing. The Bruins were held to a meager 29 yards on the ground and 288 yards total. Add UT's plus-two turnover advantage, a defensive touchdown and the defeat seems all the more improbable.
It points out the importance of the kicking game in close contests, and that's where the Bruins held a big edge with a blocked punt for a touchdown as well as Kai Forbath going two for two on field goal attempts while UT's Daniel Lincoln was one of four.
What follows is the top to bottom grades for each of UT's offensive and defensive units as well as special teams, and an overall grade.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (9.5) Advertised as the best the DBs lived up to their reputation. Corners could have been better when QB broke containment. DEFENSIVE LINE (8.8) The Vols held the center of the line well and managed to get some early pressure out of base defense. RUNNING BACKS (8.4) Tennessee averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored both offensive TDs on the ground, but Arian Foster's fumble at the 6 was a game changer.
LINEBACKERS (8.1) Ellix Wilson stepped in for Jerrod Mayo in the middle and led Vols with 11 solo tackles.
QUARTERBACK (8.0) Crompton struggled under heavy pressure, but kept his poise and brought UT from behind twice in the fourth quarter.
RECEIVERS (7.7) This veteran group didn't have the standout night many expected. Didn't get off the line and couldn't create separation or medium or on deep throws. UCLA had nine pass breakups.
OFFENSIVE LINE (7.2) This group may have been the biggest disappointment given it's veteran makeup and projected strength. Some confusion up front and too much pressure on QB.
SPECIAL TEAMS (6.1) Outside of a couple of good returns UT's special teams was anything but special.
OVERALL (7.9) There were good moments against a team that's probably better than most thought. But it's not as good as UT will see in the SEC and the Vols can not contend in the Conference playing to this level.