-- UCLA begins the 2008 football season with its first game against Tennessee Monday, September 1st, in the Rose Bowl. Game time is 5:15, with ESPN carrying the game. Mike Patrick, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe are the commentating team.
-- Tennessee is ranked 18th in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN pre-season, top-25 polls.
-- UCLA is unranked.
-- The Volunteers are coming off a 10-4 season (6-2 in the SEC East) in 2007, culminating in a win over Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl and a #12 national ranking.
-- They were within a fourth-quarter turnover of winning the SEC Championship last season.in their showdown with eventual National Champion, LSU.
-- Tennessee has been one of the best programs in the country over the last 20 years, with 10 seasons where they accomplished ten or more wins, four SEC championships and the one national championship in 1998.
-- It had been thought that Phil Fulmer, who is in 17th year as the Volunteers' head coach, might have been on the downhill slide after the 5-6 hiccup in 2005, but he's responded with two seasons of 9-4 and 10-4 in the last two years. Fulmer is 147-45 overall, giving him a winning percentage of .766, which makes him the winningest active coach in college football (with over ten years of head coaching experience).
-- UCLA is, of course, embarking on a new era for Bruin football, this being the first game for Rick Neuheisel as his alma mater's head coach. As just about everyone is aware, he made a big splash after being hired by bringing onto his staff two coaches who were considered for the UCLA head coaching spot themselves, Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow and Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker. The three were immediately dubbed "The Dream Team."
-- The history between the two schools in football tilts toward the Volunteers, 4-7-2 alltime since their first meeting in 1965. Tennessee has a record of 2-1 in Pasadena against the Bruins, but UCLA has won three of the five games played in Los Angeles.
-- The last time UCLA played Tennessee was in 1997, when the Volunteers edged the Bruins, 30-24, in a contest at the Rose Bowl. The third-ranked Volunteers were led by quarterback Peyton Manning, but UCLA almost pulled out the game, with quarterback Cade McNown throwing for 400 yards, while Manning managed 341 yards through the air.
-- After that loss, UCLA went on to win the next 20 games in row over the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
-- UCLA's last win in the series was a 25-23 victory in 1994 in the Rose Bowl. 14th-ranked UCLA was led by Wayne Cook, who threw for a then-career best 295 yards, to be the 13th-ranked Volunteers.
-- Tennesee has fared well against Pac-10 foes, having a 14-11-3 all-time record against the Pac-10.
-- Fulmer has only lost two season openers during his stint as Tennesee's coach, and one of those was against UCLA, in 1994.
-- Neuheisel is the third coach to begin his UCLA head coaching career with a game against Tennessee. Bob Toledo (a loss in 1996) and Dick Vermeil (a tie n 194) both did also.
-- The Bruins have won 16 of the last 19 gmes played at home in the Rose Bowl.
-- UCLA has won five of its last six home games against AP-ranked opponents, with wins over Oregon (2007—9th), Cal twice (2005—10th, 2007--10th), USC (2006—2nd) and Oklahoma (2005—21st), and then the loss to ASU (2007—9th).
-- UCLA is expecting a crowd of 65,000.
TENNESSEE OFFENSE V. UCLA DEFENSE
This is a good and interesting match-up, pitting what should be a good UCLA defense against a talented Tennessee offense with a new scheme.
|Tennessee QB Jonathan Crompton.|
It might look kind of similar to UCLA's new offense under Norm Chow, actually. The difference, though, is that Clawson is blessed with a veteran, talented offensive line, and he'll be able to establish a physical running game while he's trying to break in a new quarterback.
Tennessee's OL returns all five starters and even its sixth man from last season, when it produced a 1,200-yard season from its tailback, while it also, very impressively, allowed the fewest sacks in the country – just three all season. Three. That averages out to one sack every 134 pass plays. The unit has a combined 89 starts between them. The big name is Anthony Parker (SR, 6-3, 300), the left guard who was all-SEC a year ago and named to many pre-season All-American teams for the 2008 season. If Parker weren't around, right tackle Ramon Foster (SR, 6-6, 325) would probably be getting more accolades himself, being a big, strong veteran. Center Josh O'Neil (JR, 6-4, 280) is also considered a good one.
Running behind that line is San Diego native, Arian Foster (SR, 6-1, 215), who ran for 1,193 yards and is just 684 yards away being UT's all-time leading rusher. He's not necessarily fast or very shifty, but he's big and consistent. He has been hampered a bit by a knee injury in fall camp, but he's supposed to be fine for Monday. Foster also had 576 yards catching the ball out of the backfield and the Vols' offense, at least last season, liked to get him out in space.
The running back position is deep, too, with Montario Hardesty (JR, 6-0, 210) as the change-of-pace guy, but third-stringer Lennon Creer (SO, 6-1, 210) is getting some hype as being the most talented of the three.
The quarterback is Jonathan Crompton (JR, 6-4, 220), who takes over for departed Erik Ainge. Crompton was considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country as a high school senior, and the word on him is that he has the talent to be a big-time college player. He's not completely green, having one start and 500 career yards throwing. He's considered much more mobile that Ainge and presents a threat to run. Crompton was held out of practice recently and walking in a boot, but the most recent reports indicate he's ready to go.
The wide receivers are a veteran, solid group without a big star but a great deal of combined production. Lucas Taylor (SR, 6-0, 185), Josh Briscoe (SR, 6-3, 183) and Austin Rogers (JR, 6-1, 185) totaled 187 receptions between the three of them. Gerald Jones (SO, 6-0, 185) broke into the rotation and is someone to watch. The Vols lost their #1 option at tight end from a year ago, but Luke Stocker (SO, 6-6, 245) steps in and is a big target, and gives them practically another O-lineman in their power running game.
|UCLA D-tackle Brigham Harwell.|
The strength of UCLA's defense – and its team – is in its front seven. The Bruins only replace two starters among the defensive line and linebackers, and it could have one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the country in senior Brigham Harwell and sophomore Brian Price. Price is an exceptional talent, with great instincts and quickness off the ball.
Advantage: Tennessee. The Vols could be a little slow out of the block, breaking in a new offensive scheme and quarterback, but you can expect Crompton to show his talent pretty quickly. And while you think Tennessee might stick to their reliable ground game, and work in Crompton gradually, there is another school of thought here – that the Volunteers are going to go right at UCLA's inexperienced defensive secondary. Tennessee's offensive line will almost assuredly give Crompton plenty of time to look downfield to try to pick apart UCLA's pass defense. UCLA Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker will be trying to apply pressure to Crompton from a variety of spots on the field. And we don't expect Tennessee to run right through UCLA's rush defense either, since Walker has really made it a hallmark of his exceptional defenses in the last two years. But if you throw in that, more than likely, the UCLA defense is going to be on the field too long since its offense won't, probably, be able to stay on the field itself, and the depth, talent and experience of UT's offensive line, along with the match-up of Tennessee's experienced wide receivers against UCLA's inxperienced DBs, and there's just too much pointing toward the Volunteers.
UCLA OFFENSE V. TENNESEE DEFENSE
The Volunteer defense is the flip of UCLA's defense – with a strong, experienced defensive secondary and a slightly more questionable front seven.
They're looking to improve on 2007, when Tennessee had perhaps its worst defense in quite a while.
The two starting defensive tackles return, Demonte Bolden (SR, 6-5, 290) and Dan Williams (JR, 6-3, 310), and both are considered solid guys. The two ends will be new starters, Robert Ayers (SR, 6-3, 270) and West Brown (JR, 6-4, 256). The other real question is depth, with the Vols having lost tackle Donald Langley (FR, 6-2, 290) to suspension for the game, while the two back-ups at defensive end have never played a collegiate down.
When linebacker Jerod Mayo declared early for the NFL draft, it left Tennessee with just one returning starter, weakside linebacker Rico McCoy (JR, 6-1, 215), who had the second-most tackles on the team (next to Mayo) last season with 106. Ellix Wilson (SR, 5-10, 225) is an undersized middle linebacker who was the first off the bench last season.
Tennessee's defensive strength is its talented and deep secondary, led by a guy who is being heralded as one of the most talented defensive backs in the SEC, strong safety Eric Berry (SO, 5-11, 195). Berry has a knack for interceptions, and then returning interceptions for big yardage. He's expected to be among the tackle leaders on the team for the season.
|Offensive tackle Micah Kia.|
UCLA's offense, in its first game under the leadership of Norm Chow, has a few things going for it. First, it has Chow, who arguably might be the best Offensive Coordinator in college football. His scheme and his play-calling are creative, dynamic and unpredictable – all the things that UCLA's offense hasn't been for many years.
UCLA also has talent and depth at running back, wide receiver and tight end. Tailback Kahlil Bell was on his way to a 1,000-yard season when he blew out his knee last season, but he looks even better – quicker and stronger – so far this fall. He's backed by a deep bench, with heralded Raymond Carter, the redshirt freshman who also blew out his knee a year ago, poised to make his debut, and just-as-much heralded Aundre Dean, the true freshman, at Chow's disposal.
The wide receiver group is a good blend of solid veterans, led by Marcus Everett, and a deep group of talented youngsters, includin sure-handed freshman Taylor Embree, and 6-5 freshman Nelson Rosario.
At tight end, you have senior leader Logan Paulsen, and maybe the guy who might benefit personally the most from Chow's scheme, Ryan Moya. In fall camp, Chow really utilized Moya, lining him up all over the field.
Two other guys it appears Chow will try to utilize more are fullback Trevor Theriot and tailback Chane Moline. All three guys – Moya, Theriot, and Moline – are big guys who catch the ball well, and Chow will try to get them isolated in mis-matches against smaller defenders.
But after that, UCLA is a huge question mark at both quarterback and offensive line.
At quarterback, essentially third-string Kevin Craft will start the Tennessee game, just five months in the program after having transferred from a JC. He has some ability, with a decent arm and good mobility, but he's still learning the scheme and is prone to making mistakes, and getting a bit tight. In fall camp, he threw a lot of interceptions.
The offensive line has had a few good days lately in practice, easily the best it's had all fall. New offensive line coach Bob Palcic has been mixing and matching, trying to find the right combination. After many injuries to projected starters, it was a big blow when the best OL on the team, tackle Micah Kia, broke his hand a week ago, but it appears he'll play with a wrapped cast.
Even with Kia, though, the OL lacks experience and depth, and has just average talent.
Advantage: Tennessee. While the Volunteers have a few holes in their defense, they have so much quality depth to make up for it. On the other hand, UCLA is trying to break in a green, averagely-talented quarterback, with an inexperienced and dubiously-talented offensive line.
Now, if UCLA had just a couple of the guys they lost to injury on the OL, you might give the nod to their offense over the UT defense, even while starting Craft at quarterback. But the combination of quarterback and OL is too much to overcome.
Chow has a few things up his sleeve to keep Tennessee guessing. He'll try to keep the pressure off Craft as much as possible, with quick drops, roll-outs and different formations. UCLA, at the very least, would like to stay on the field, run some clock, and keep the score down and its defense within range of winning. Tennessee will almost assuredly stack the box to stop UCLA's running game and dare Craft to beat them through the air. Tennessee wasn't a great pass-rushing team a year ago, and it's not anticipated they will be exceptional this year, but you can expect them, in this game, to put a great deal of pressure on Craft and be in UCLA's backfield often.
It should be a good match-up between what should be superior special teams. UCLA's kicker Kai Forbath is a good, young talent, and Tennessee's Daniel Lincoln was named to some All-American teams. UCLA might have an advantage in punting with Aaron Perez, since Tennessee lost its all-SEC punter, Britton Colquit, to suspension for the first five games, leaving the duties to sophomore Chad Cunningham. Dennis Rogan is a good punt returner, as is UCLA's Terrence Austin. There's definitely some pressure on UCLA's special teams to be exceptional, since they have a coach specifically for special teams in Frank Gansz.
Tennessee came to the west coast a year ago in its season opener to face Cal and lost, which isn't a good harbinger for UCLA. The Vols almost assuredly are going to remember that and are going to try to prevent it this year. The Volunteeers aren't the program they were, say, a decade ago under Fulmer, but they're still good enough to be among the top third of the SEC, which means they have the most talent UCLA will see on any opponent's roster this season next to USC.
While many are thinking this game is going to be won by Tennessee's defense shutting down UCLA's offense, watch for Tennessee's passing game to go right after UCLA's young and inexperienced secondary to try to open up the field, get UCLA's defense back on its heels, and then pound inside with its power running game. Tennessee's defense, running behind that experienced and talented offensive line, will own the clock and be the dominant force in the game. Only turnovers created by UCLA's defense have the potential tp balance the power.