UCLA defense

It's no secret that Tennessee's quarterbacks played poorly in 2008. If they want to reverse that trend in '09, they really need to enjoy some success in Game 1 vs. Western Kentucky because completing passes may prove to be a real challenge in Game 2 vs. UCLA.

The Bruins ranked No. 8 nationally in pass defense a year ago and return probably the finest pair of cornerbacks the Vols will face all season.

Alterraun Verner, a preseason All-American for 2009, led the entire NCAA with 18 pass breakups in 2008. Throwing to the other side would be a wise move except that Michael Norris is almost as talented as Verner. Norris recorded a team-high 3 interceptions last fall and chipped in 13 breakups.

Good pass defenders are useless, of course, if the opposing quarterback has all day to wait for his receivers to get separation. That's where defensive end Korey Bosworth comes in. Small but dynamic, the 6-1, 245-pounder, registered 7.5 sacks last season and can be a truly disruptive force off the edge.

Verner, Norris and Bosworth played key roles last September as UCLA limited Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton to 19 completions in 42 attempts en route to a 27-24 overtime defeat of the Vols.

UCLA's run defense should be in good hands, as well, thanks to the return of standout tackle Brian Price and stud linebacker Reggie Carter.

Price, a 6-2, 295-pounder, was first-team All-Pac 10 as a sophomore last fall after registering 14 tackles for loss. Carter, a 6-1, 240-pounder who led UCLA with 83 stops a year ago, has moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker, where his bulk should be a real deterrent to teams looking to run up between the tackles.

The Bruins also boast one of the finest return specialists Tennessee will face in 2009. Terrence Austin averaged 9.5 yards on punt runbacks and 24.1 yards on kickoff returns last season.

Bottom line: UCLA's only significant loss from last year's defense was coordinator Dewayne Walker, who left to become head coach at New Mexico State. Thus, a youthful stop unit that allowed 19 passing touchdowns and 17 rushing TDs in 2008 should be a whole lot saltier now that it has an added year of maturity and experience.

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