Fourth-quarter stops

A UCLA offense that mustered just three points during the first 49 minutes of Monday night's game in Pasadena shredded Tennessee's defense for two long touchdown drives in the final 11 minutes of regulation.

Worse, the finishing fade continued an alarming trend which has seen the Vols routinely fail to make clutch fourth-quarter stops in recent years.

Here's a brief history lesson:

- Oct. 22, 2005: Tied 3-3 after managing just 197 total yards through the first 57 minutes, Alabama's Brodie Croyle completed a 43-yard bomb to D.J. Hall on a drive that set up Jamie Christensen's 34-yard field goal with 13 seconds left for a 6-3 Tide victory.

- Oct. 29, 2005: Down 15-13 with 7 minutes left, South Carolina's Blake Mitchell completed five of six passes on a march to the Vol 32-yard line, from which point Josh Brown hit a game-winning 49-yard field goal with 2:45 left.

- Nov. 19, 2005: Down 24-21 with 5 minutes left, Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler picked Tennessee apart on a drive that culminated in a game-winning five-yard TD pass to Earl Bennett with 1:11 remaining.

- Sept. 16, 2006: Down 20-14 midway through the fourth quarter, Florida's Chris Leak capped a clutch march with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Baker at the 6-minute mark to give the Gators a 21-20 victory.

- Nov. 11, 2006: Down 24-21 entering the final minutes, LSU's JaMarcus Russell engineered a drive that produced a four-yard touchdown pass to Early Doucet with nine seconds left and a 28-24 Tiger triumph.

- Oct. 27, 2007: Down 21-0 at the half and 21-14 midway in the fourth quarter, South Carolina scored 10 points in the final 8 minutes to take a 24-21 lead with 1:24 left. Daniel Lincoln bailed out the defense on this occasion, however, with a game-tying 48-yard field goal at the end of regulation and a game-winning 27-yarder in overtime as UT won 27-24.

- Nov. 17, 2007: Down 25-24 with 3 minutes remaining, Vanderbilt advanced to the Vol 32-yard line in the closing seconds only to have Bryan Hahnfeldt's potential game-winning 49-yard field goal graze the left upright as it veered wide left.

Given all of the above, Monday night's script seemed all too familiar for Vol fans.

Down 14-10 with 11 minutes left, UCLA launched a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that put the Bruins on top 17-14.

The Big Orange retaliated to go up 21-17 with 1:54 remaining but the Vol defense again proved unable to make a stop. UCLA promptly marched 70 yards in nine plays to take a 24-21 lead.

Lincoln kicked a 47-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to tie the score and the Vol defense did not allow a single yard on UCLA's overtime possession. Still, the Bruins kicked a field goal in OT and prevailed 27-24.

While an impotent offense was the major culprit in Tennessee's Game 1 loss, the Vols still would've won if not for the defense's late lapses. A UCLA offense that managed just 138 yards and three points through the first three quarters, picked up 150 yards and 14 points on its last two possessions of the fourth quarter. The obvious question: What happened?

"I think we got a little winded, a little tired," senior linebacker Ellix Wilson said. "Some people didn't play techniques the best way they could, including myself. No one's perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. We made mistakes and we paid for it."

Several of his fellow defenders, however, suggested fatigue was not a factor during the finishing fade.

"I think they (Bruins) just made a good adjustment, and we didn't adjust fast enough to 'em," junior safety Demetrice Morley. "That was the only reason. It wasn't effort or nothing like that. The adjustment was a big part."

When asked if the Vols had any gas in the tank on those two late touchdown drives, Morley nodded.

"We still felt fresh. We weren't tired," he said. "We was out there ready to go. It was the first game, and everybody was excited. I don't think it was any kind of issue that we was tired or anything like that."

Junior cornerback Marsalous Johnson also downplayed the notion that UCLA's late TDs came against a Vol defense that was gassed.

"I guess I'd give props to their coach," he said. "They made a few plays and we got out of position on a few plays."

That seems to be a recurring late-game pattern for the Vols the past three seasons.


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