Describing Vol staffers as "very intense," safety Eric Berry noted: "We were up 49 and they were still grinding us, making sure we were doing the right things on the field. Those guys don't change from practice to game. The way they coach at practice and in the meeting room is the same way they coach on Saturday."
Moreover, the way they coach when they're way ahead is the same way they coach when the score is tied - aggressively. That's why UCLA won't come from behind against UT this Saturday at Knoxville the way the Bruins did in last year's game at Pasadena.
Tennessee dominated the previous meeting for three quarters and led 21-10 with nine minutes remaining. Trying to protect the lead instead of expand it, the Vols switched to soft zone coverage to prevent the big play. The problem was, UCLA made enough little plays to sustain two late touchdown drives that sent the game into overtime tied 24-all. The Bruins then booted a field goal in OT to win 27-24.
Basically, the Vols took their foot off the gas last year and paid dearly for it. They will not make that mistake again. New head man Lane Kiffin didn't back off when his team led WKU 56-7 last weekend and he will not back off against a much more capable UCLA team this weekend ... no matter what the score might be.
But that's just one of many reasons the Big Orange will win this weekend. Here are some others:
- Tennessee has a significant home-field advantage.
- UCLA's players had to fly 1,940 miles for this game, and teams that travel cross-country typically lose. Consider UT's recent history: The 2006 Vols raced to a 35-0 lead against a Cal team that had just traveled 2,000 miles and coasted to a 35-18 romp. The Vols had to make the taxing trek in reverse a year later, however, and they lost the rematch 45-31. Then the Vols suffered another West Coast misadventure at UCLA last fall after making the 1,940-mile trip to Pasadena. This Saturday, however, it's the Bruins who will be at a disadvantage.
"It could be a factor in their cross-country traveling," Berry said. "I went to sleep super early when I went out to California. It was about 7 o'clock when we got out there and I was knocked out. I probably woke up around 4 o'clock their time, and I was up that whole day. Not to make an excuse, but I think the time does have somewhat of an effect."
- Tennessee has the revenge motive after giving away last year's game.
- UCLA's rookie quarterback is sure to be rattled. Redshirt freshman Kevin Prince will be playing his first road game in front of 100,000 ultra-hostile UT fans and a national TV audience. In addition, he'll be mentally challenged by legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
- The Vols are riding an emotional high after their smashing defeat of Western Kentucky.
"It felt good," Berry conceded. "It kind of made me feel like, 'Hey, these coaches do know what they're talking about.'"
After a soft laugh, he continued: "We had no doubt at all but it just showed us that buying in to those guys really does help us as a team. They're not steering us in any wrong direction. They're doing everything in their power to help us, and it showed on Saturday."
- Coming off a 5-7 season in 2008, the Vols felt they had a lot to prove in 2009. They still feel that way. Trouncing a weak Western Kentucky team left a lot of questions unanswered. Beating a solid UCLA team would resolve some of those issues.
"We do need to get a win against these guys, kind of send a statement that we're for real," Berry said. "We need to stay focused on what we need to do."
Combining all of the above suggests Tennessee will win - perhaps handily - Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.