UCLA has one great player at each level of its defense. Preseason All-America tackle Brian Price anchors the front four. All-star candidate Reggie Carter is the bell cow of the linebacker corps. Cornerback Alterraun Verner, another preseason All-American, heads up the secondary. These guys helped limit Tennessee to 24 points last September in Pasadena, and they're a year better for the rematch.
Tennessee hammered Western Kentucky last weekend by running the ball at will (380 net yards), then going to the air when the Hilltoppers began overplaying the run. The Vols won't run for anywhere near 380 yards against a UCLA defense that limited San Diego State to a mere 39 rushing yards last weekend. That will put more pressure on the air attack.
Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton was 21 of 28 passing for 233 yards and five touchdowns last weekend against a WKU defense that never sacked him and rarely hurried him. He will not have that luxury against a UCLA defense that returns nearly intact after intercepting him once and limiting him to 19 of 42 passing last fall.
The Bruins are vastly improved on offense this year. The 2008 attack threw a school-record 21 interceptions, surrendered a whopping 35 sacks and averaged a paltry 2.6 yards per rushing attempt. With a more gifted quarterback, better running backs and a stronger offensive line, the 2009 Bruins are much more formidable.
UCLA is superb on special teams. Kai Forbath, simply put, is the best kicker in college football. He has hit 85.2 percent of his career field-goal tries (46 of 54) with a long of 54 yards. He nailed the game-winning 42-yarder in overtime to beat Tennessee 27-24 last September and finished the 2008 season 19 of 22. He is 2 for 2 this fall, having connected from 49 and 50 yards in last Saturday's 33-14 defeat of San Diego State.
UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow is one of the most resourceful guys in the coaching profession. In the last meeting with Tennessee he managed to muster 27 points in spite of four interceptions by his quarterback and a paltry 29 yards (on 31 carries) by his ground attack.
There is no pressure on the Bruins. They opened as seven-point underdogs, and the line quickly swelled to 10 points. No one expects the visitors to win, so they should be relaxed when they take the field Saturday afternoon.
The Vols are facing some growing pains under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin as they adapt to new assistants and schemes on offense and defense. The Bruins endured their growing pains last year, and should be much more comfortable in Rick Neuheisel's second year at the helm.
When you take off the orange-colored glasses, you realize that UCLA has a good chance to win Saturday's game.