Vols err in air game

An anemic passing attack nullified a superior defensive performance and doomed Tennessee to defeat. Sound familiar?

It should. The same formula that caused the Vols to lose seven games in 2008 showed up again in Game 2 of 2009.

Quarterback Jonathan Crompton completed 13 of 26 passes for a mere 93 yards with three interceptions as Tennessee suffered a 19-15 loss to UCLA before a stunned crowd of 102,239 at Neyland Stadium.

In spite of its putrid passing performance, UT had a chance to win the game in the final minutes. Down 19-13, the Vols drove to a fourth-and-goal at the Bruin 1-yard line. Montario Hardesty was stopped by the middle of the UCLA line, however, and the ball went over on downs with 1:59 to go.

The Vols weren't dead yet, however. UCLA tailback Johnathan Franklin fumbled on second down but an officiating review determined that he recovered his own fumble at the 1-yard line.

Tennessee got another chance to win, however, when safety Dennis Rogan sacked Kevin Prince for a safety on the very next play, narrowing the gap to 19-15 and forcing UCLA to surrender the ball via free kick with 1:41 to play.

Tennessee started the ensuing possession at its 40-yard line with 1:37 to go. Three incompletions and a sack later, however, the Vols had suffered their first loss of the Lane Kiffin coaching era.

Kiffin defended Crompton, noting that his timing was off with receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore - both of whom missed most of preseason camp with injuries.

After conceding that "We've got to do better than what was showed today," the head man added that the uneven passing game "was my fault for playing players who hadn't practiced enough because of injuries ... hoping veteran guys would go in there and make plays and get the timing right."

The timing wasn't right, however, prompting Kiffin to note "That really made Jonathan suffer."

Something seemed to make him implode in the second and third quarters. After completing five of his first nine passes for 34 yards, he badly overthrew a wide-open Gerald Jones on a post route. UCLA's Rahim Moore intercepted at the Bruin 27-yard line.

After completing a couple of short passes on UT's next possession, Crompton threw an out route that was intercepted by UCLA's Alterraun Verner and returned 26 yards to the Vol 33-yard line. Tennessee dodged a bullet, however, when Kai Forbath missed a 51-yard field goal try on the final play of the half.

Crompton telegraphed a quick hitch on UT's first play of the third quarter, however, and Rahim Moore intercepted at the Vol 26-yard line. Forbath nailed a 39-yard field goal moments later to give UCLA the lead for good at 13-10.

During that disastrous stretch, Crompton threw five passes, completing two for 12 yards with three intercepted.

Although UCLA got just three points out of the three picks, the Bruins took the momentum and took the UT crowd out of the game. Forbath hit field goals of 31 and 47 yards later in the quarter, extending the lead to 19-10. Daniel Lincoln answered with a 28-yard field goal that narrowed the gap to 19-13 with 9:56 to play, setting the stage for the wild finish.

With UCLA crowding the line of scrimmage and showing no respect for the Tennessee passing attack, the Vols' ground game managed just 115 yards on 44 carries. This was just one week after the Big Orange rushed for 380 yards vs. Western Kentucky in Game 1.

The impotent passing attack also nullified another excellent effort by the Vol defense. After limiting WKU to 83 total yards last weekend, Tennessee limited UCLA to 186 yards. Kevin Prince completed 11 of 23 passes for 101 yards but the Bruin ground game averaged just 2.36 yards per carry.

Tennessee's defense also forced six fumbles but recovered just one. That one came in the first quarter, when redshirt freshman Willie Bohannon sacked and stripped Prince at the UCLA 11-yard line. Hardesty, who led all rushers with 89 yards on 26 carries, scored on the very next play to put Tennessee on top 10-3.

The rosy outlook didn't last, however. Crompton fumbled a snap and UCLA recovered at the Vol 35-yard line early in the second quarter. The Bruins tied the score seven plays later on a 12-yard Prince-to-Chane Moline TD pass.

Kiffin said Vol defensive end Gerald Williams was supposed to drop into zone coverage on the play but rushed the passer instead. Williams and tackle Wes Brown hit Prince just as he flipped the ball to Moline, who scored with relative ease.

On a day when the offense made a half-dozen costly mistakes, however, it would be unfair to dwell on the one glaring miscue committed by the defense.

"We killed ourselves," Kiffin said. "We screwed some things up by not doing things right. Somehow we got out of whack today."

The statistics underscore that point. One week after piling up 657 yards against Western Kentucky the Vols mustered just 208. They also lost four turnovers and converted on just 4 of 16 third-down plays.

"Two hundred and eight yards is obviously embarrassing," Kiffin said. "Four for 16 on third downs ... you're not going to win many games when you turn the ball over four times."

Not with Florida up next, for sure.


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