Preview of the Tennessee Game

It's a pretty big game for both programs, one that could validate either UCLA or Tennessee with a win. The Volunteers don't have the talent of a tradtional Tennessee team, but they do have Neyland Stadium, and UCLA is bringing quite a few young, inexperienced players into that orange cauldron...

SIGNIFICANT FACTORS

-- UCLA goes on the road for the first time this season, traveling to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday. Game time is 1:00 p.m. PST.

-- The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, with Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge calling the action.

-- UCLA is 1-0 after beating San Diego State last week, 33-14.

-- Tennessee is 1-0 after beating Western Kentucky 63-7.

-- Tennessee leads the all-time series, which dates back to 1965, with a 7-5-2 record against UCLA.

-- The Bruins won last year's meeting at the Rose Bowl, rallying for a 27-24 win in overtime.

-- UCLA hasn't traveled to Knoxville to play in Neyland Stadium since 1996, a game the Bruins lost.

-- That game, won by Tennessee, 35-20, was the largest crowd to ever see a UCLA football game, with 106,297 people packed into Neyland Stadium.

-- Tennessee is 5-1-2 against UCLA in Knoxville.

-- UCLA's last win against Tennessee came in 1994, when the then-#14-ranked UCLA knocked off the #13-ranked Volunteers, 25-23.

-- UCLA's only win in Tennessee was in 1978, when the Bruins won, 13-0.

-- Lane Kiffin, 34, is in his first year as Tennessee's coach, talking over for Phil Fulmer, who was fired after last season. Kiffin comes to Tennessee from the Oakland Raiders, where he served as head coach for two seasons. Before that, he coached at USC for six seasons in different roles, the last being offensive coordinator.

-- Pete Carroll handed Kiffin the reins of the USC offense after Norm Chow, UCLA's current offensive coordinator, left the program. There has been much made of how reportedly Carroll wanted Kiffin to take over more responsibility of the offense from Chow, and how there aren't great feelings between Chow and Kiffin.

-- Kiffin is the son of long-time NFL coach, Monte Kiffin, whom he hired as Tennessee's defensive coordinator.

-- Rick Neuheisel is 1-1 coaching against Kiffin, splitting the two meetings between Washington (when Neuheisel was the head coach) and USC (when Kiffin was a position coach).

-- Kiffin, who is a notorious talker, has made an effort to not give UCLA any bulletin board material this week. His defensive line coach, and former USC coach, Ed Orgeron, did say this week that he and Kiffin are the two people who want to beat UCLA more than anyone.

-- Tennessee's starting tailback, Montario Hardesty, also said this week that the Volunteers lost to UCLA last season because they let up too early in the game when they had established a lead.

-- Last year, at the Rose Bowl, when UCLA rallied from a 21-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Volunteers, 27-24, in overtime, many Volunteer followers felt it set the tone for the vastly disappointing 2008 season in which they finished 5-7 and saw their long-time head coach, Phil Fulmer, fired.

-- UCLA had 30 players with freshman or sophomore class status see action in the opener against San Diego State. 18 true and redshirt freshmen played.

-- At game time, the weather is expected to be partly cloudy, with 5-10 mph winds and a temperature around 80 degrees.

TENNESSEE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

When Lane Kiffin arrived at Tennessee, one of the first things he did was simplify the offense for fifth-year senior quarterback Johnathan Crompton (6-4, 228). Crompton had been through four offensive coordinators in five years and Kiffin didn't think it'd be beneficial to overload him again.

It seemed like it worked in Tennessee's season opener last week against Western Kentucky, with Crompton throwing five touchdowns.

Crompton threw only four touchdowns in all of the 2008 season.

In fact, if you looked at the performance of the Tennessee offense overall against Western Kentucky, it's very impressive. 63 points. 657 total yards. 380 yards on the ground.

Tennessee never punted.

But it's necessary to put somewhat of an asterisk next to Tennessee's offensive performance against WKU. The Hilltoppers are generally considered the worst team among the 120 Division 1 teams. They just made the transition this year from Division 1 FCS (previously known as 1-AA), to Division 1 FBS.

So, it's difficult to take too much from what the Volunteers did against WKU.

In Crompton's case, he looked very good, throwing very accurately and possessing poise in the pocket. But, again, it's easy to have poise in the pocket when you have about 10 seconds to throw the ball and a defender doesn't touch you for four quarters.

The scheme, though, is a good one for Crompton. Of course, it's very similar to the West Coast scheme of UCLA and Norm Chow, since Kiffin grew up at USC under Chow's tutelage. Tenessee's Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney ran the pro-style offense at Purdue for many years, and he and Kiffin have the same West-Coast philosophy. For Crompton, that means a lot of short and intermediate throws, trying to find the seam in the opposing zone defense, with some bootleg action to take advantage of Crompton's ability to run.

You'd think, too, that Tennessee would try to stretch the field a bit and test UCLA's young secondary, especially after it looked vulnerable on that 70-yard pass by San Diego State.

It's a matter, though, if Tennessee's offensive line can give Crompton the time to do it. Similar to UCLA, Tennessee isn't sure, after its cream puff season opener, if their OL can provide enough pass protection for Crompton to throw down the field.

Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton.
The OL is an experienced bunch, but probably not nearly as talented as Tennessee offensive lines of the past. The Volunteers start four seniors, three with starting experience, and a redshirt junior. Probably the best OL is senior left tackle Chris Scott (6-5, 330), who has started 27 straight games. The OL did take a hit when Josh McNeil, the senior center, injured his knee in fall camp and is still out, and former walk-on, senior Cody Sullins (6-1, 260), has had to step in.

Obviously, key to Tennessee's effectiveness throwing the ball will be what wide receivers they have at their disposal, and their health. Junior Gerald Jones (6-0, 199) is the best receiver on the team, but he suffered a high-ankle sprain in Tennessee's fall scrimmage and missed the WKU game. As of right now, the Tennessee coaches are somewhat optimistic he'll play, but he was expected to miss up to 6 weeks, so it's questionable just how effective Jones would be. Junior Denarius Moore (6-1, 190) is also a huge part of Tennessee's receiving corps, being the deep ball threat. He, though, missed most of fall camp after foot surgery. He did play against WKU, catching one pass for four yards.

Senior Quintin Hancock (6-3, 207) had the biggest day of his career with those guys out, catching five passes for 65 yards, last week.

What has Tennessee followers atwitter, though, was the performance of true freshman Marsalis Teague 5-10, 180), who, starting his first game, caught six passes for 86 yards, and looked good doing it. Again, it's hard to take much from the WKU game, but Teague looked dangerous after the catch.

There was also true freshman Nu'Keese Richardson (5-10, 165), who looked like a book-end edition of Teague.

Junior tight end Luke Stocker (6-6, 240) is a big target and, even though he's never done much previously, he looked good catching two touchdown passes against WKU.

With Crompton's effectiveness against a real secondary still a question, and the state of Tennessee's receivers, the Volunteers will look to their ground game to stay on the field.

Again, even though it was against WKU, Tennessee's rushing performance was impressive last week. The OL opened up massive holes, and the running backs looked very big and fast going through them.

Senior Montario Hardesty (6-0, 215) is a power runner type, and he looks like he's running downhill.

Freshman Bryce Brown (6-0, 215), though, is the guy to really watch. Brown was the #1 overall prospect in the country for 2009 as ranked by Scout.com, and last week against WKU he looked big – and very quick. He busted a 34-yarder that was an impressive burst of speed and power.

Hardesty and Brown combined for 264 yards.

And if that's not enough, there's also sophomore Tauren Poole (5-10, 203) and freshman David Oku (5-10, 186), both of whom provide the change-up shiftiness to the tailback spot. Poole gained 62 yards and Oku 42 yards last week.

So, the tailback position collectively gained 368 yards against WKU.

Junior fullback Kevin Cooper (6-0, 247) is utilized in just about the same way UCLA's fullbacks are – mostly as blocking backs who catch an occasional pass out of the backfield.

Defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski.
UCLA's defense has a different dynamic to it without Aaron Hester, the 6-1 cornerback who is out for 4 weeks with a cracked fibula. The 5-8, 165-pound Courtney Viney replaces him, and now suddenly UCLA has a pretty small defensive secondary.

UCLA will have to be carried by its front seven. The linebackers – veterans Reggie Carter, Kyle Bosworth and Akeem Ayers – were impressive against San Diego State.

UCLA's star defensive tackle Brian Price suffered an unspecified knee injury against the Aztecs, and has had limited practice this week. His partner on the interior, Jerzy Siewierski, had a very good game last week, and he might be expected to to even more if Price isn't 100%. Watch to see how much UCLA subs in David Carter and Jess Ward, and how many plays Price actually is in on for the first quarter.

Advantage: Tennessee. Slightly. Even though you can't judge by WKU, you'd still have to say that, with Tennessee's stable of running backs their ground game is going to be formidable. Even so, we'd probably still call this one even if UCLA hadn't lost Hester. While Viney played well last week against SDSU, this will be a different level of athlete he matches up against in Tennessee's receivers. You can expect Tennessee to avoid throwing in the direction of star cornerback Alterraun Verner and try to pick on Viney. UCLA's nickel package, too, doesn't add much size to it when you bring in 5-10 walk-on Andrew Abbott. On top of all that, back-up safety Glenn Love is hindered a bit by an ankle sprain.

The game, though, will be decided between the strengths of the two teams – Tennessee's rushing and UCLA's rushing defense. If UCLA can keep Tennessee, say, to 150 yards or less rushing, they'll have a shot. If Tennessee can consistently move the chains on the ground, it's most likely game over for the Bruins. The Volunteers wouldn't even have to put its pass protection and Crompton to the test.

UCLA will hopefully show more aggressiveness defensively than it did last week. We're expecting new Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough to now have the kinks out, and pressure Tennessee at the line of scrimmage, on both passing and running plays. If UCLA sits back and doesn't pressure Crompton, he's shown that, with little pressure, he can pick apart a secondary. We expect UCLA to dedicate more guys to defending Tennessee's ground game, sneaking up more guys into the box. We'd also expect UCLA to employ more zone in this one, to try to give Viney some help, make Crompton have to find the seams (where he's struggled in the past), and protect against any big-play capability.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. TENNESSEE'S DEFENSE

UCLA spent a couple of weeks trying to game plan against San Diego State's, funky 3-3-5 defense.

And even though Tennessee's defense is more talented and just plain better, there is a feeling in the UCLA program that they'd much rather match up against Tennessee's defense than SDSU's.

Tennessee runs a much more conventional 4-3-3. Monte Kiffin, Lane's dad and defensive coordinator, has installed a defense that is strikingly similar to UCLA's – which gives UCLA the advantage of playing against it in practice.

Kiffin generally runs what is called the "Tampa 2" defense, which is just another name for a zone D. They don't employ man coverage much.

All-American safety Eric Berry.
The Tampa 2, and other zones, are dependent on some positions having exceptional talent, with fast guys that can run and hit, and Tennessee might have the #1 guy in the country on their defense who embodies that – senior safety Eric Berry (5-11, 203). He's on just about everyone's All-American list, being fast and instinctual, and a having a penchant for hitting. He has 12 interceptions in his career, and a staggering 487 yards in returning them. He is the guy who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and then he'll hit you.

Berry has some unproven guys around him, though. Senior Marsalous Jackson (5-9, 184) starts at one corner spot, a guy who's only seen limited action throughout his career. Then it gets pretty young. Sophomore Art Evans (6-1, 173) beat out veteran Brent Vinson (6-0, 2101), who was banged up throughout camp. Then there is freshman Janzen Jackson (6-0, 180) at the other safety spot, and he'll platoon some with junior Dennis Rogan (5-10, 178).

Tennessee was very good against the pass last season, giving up only 160 yards per game (4th in the country), but they've had some holes to fill.

But then again, they do have Berry.

Coming into the season, the biggest question mark on defense was the linebacking group. They're pretty much unproven and under-sized. Senior weakside linebacker Rico McCoy (6-1, 220) is the only returning player with experience. Junior strongside ‘backer LaMarcus Thompson (6-1, 221) has played in many games over his time at Tennessee but was never good enough to win a starting spot -- until last week. Senior Nick Reveiz (5-10, 220) is a former walk-on, and the six tackles he made against Western Kentucky were more than he's made the rest of his career (four).

The defensive line has some unknowns and question marks, but Tennessee is optimistic. Senior nose tackle Dan Williams (6-3, 327) was thought to be the stalwart of the line, but he was basically beat out by freshman Montori Hughes (6-4, 312). The other DT, Wes Brown (6-4, 257), moved from defensive end and still looks like one. The two starting defensive ends are junior Chris Walker (6-3, 232) and junior Gerald Williams (6-4, 248). Walker was a back-up last season but had a big spring, and Williams is a converted linebacker who then had a big fall camp. Tennessee followers are high on both based on how they did in practice. They both are speed guys, and Walker registered two sacks and two tackles for loss last week against WKU.

UCLA's offense looked good in the first half against San Diego State last week, and then reminiscent of 2008 in the second half.

Quarterback Kevin Prince.
A great deal of that was due to the up and down performance of quarterback Kevin Prince, who looked like the answer to all Bruin prayers in the first 30 minutes, and then a ghost of Kevin Craft in the second 30 minutes.

Some of it was definitely due to UCLA going vanilla in the second half once UCLA had built a lead and Prince threw two interceptions.

After watching true freshman left tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo against SDSU, it's amazing to think it was his first college game, showing exceptional athleticism. The UCLA OL, overall did okay against the Aztecs – again, pretty good at opening holes and pass protecting in the second half, but not as well in the second half when the play-calling went pretty predictable. Kai Maiva, UCLA's starting center, has been sitting out some of practice this week with a back problem; Maiava being healthy is key to UCLA's success in the trenches.

UCLA's skill positions are pretty well stocked. There isn't incredible talent, but there is good depth and some exceptional young talent that is looking to break out. UCLA's running backs looked good lat week, especially Derrick Coleman who looked quicker than he did a year ago. It will be interesting to see if UCLA gets touches for freshman Damien Thigpen, the speedster who spurned Tennessee for UCLA after Kiffin was hired.

The UCLA tight ends are numerous and dangerous. Senior Ryan Moya is good at finding seams in zone defenses. Watch for him and Logan Paulsen to try to find the soft spot in the zone over the top in the middle.

It will be interesting, too, watching to see if UCLA tries to get freshman Randall Carroll some touches. While starting receivers Taylor Embree and Terrence Austin are very effective possession receivers, the speedster Carroll is the guy that can change the game.

Advantage: Even. Yep, even. You might think it's crazy (or homerism) to think that UCLA's offense, which has struggled for a while, could play an SEC defense even on the road, starting a redshirt freshman quarterback in a stadium packed with 100,000 people. But Tennessee's defense is not the type it's had in the past; it's not as talented and not as deep. If there was ever a defense Prince should feel comfortable playing against it would be Tennessee's, since it's close to the same scheme UCLA employs. Yes, of course, Prince is going to be rattled a bit in this game. If he wasn't it'd be shocking. And he'll probably throw a couple of picks. But we expect UCLA to put in some new wrinkles to keep Tennessee's defense on its heels – maybe not things that jump out at you as major changes, but different plays run out of different formations compared to what UCLA showed last week against San Diego State.

UCLA, like Tennessee, will try to utilize a short- and medium-range passing game, to get its running backs and tight ends the ball matched up against Tennessee's inexperienced linebackers. Watch for UCLA to throw at Moya quite a bit in this one.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Alll we have is 2008 to go by on punter Chad Cunningham and place kicker Daniel Lincoln, since neither touched the ball against WKU. Both were considered merely adequate a year ago. The return teams have had an influx of talent from the freshman class, with Oku returning kicks and Richardson returning punts.

With UCLA's Kai Forbath hitting field goals of 49 yards and 50 yards against San Diego State, with some room to spare, Forbath has now converted 15 straight FG attempts. The school record is 22 by John Lee in 1984 and '85. With the 50-yarder, Forbath has now made 7 field goals of at least 50 yards during his UCLA career, a school record.

With that performance, he's definitely on the short list of the best field goal kickers in the nation, if not being the list itself.

Jeff Locke averaged just 38.8 yards per punt against SDSU, which is short for him, but he gets so much hang time and is so good at punting within the 20 that it's difficult to mount a return.

UCLA's return teams showed why they're considered among the best in the country last week. Austin set up a touchdown with a 65-yard kick-off return.

Prediction

You have to really throw out what Tennessee did against WKU as any kind of indication of what type of team the Volunteers are this year.

At the very least, though, you'd have to believe that Tennessee's offensive strength is going to be its running game. It has the most talent on the team in its backfield, and a decent-to-good offensive line.

UCLA's strength, too, is in its defensive front seven. It was good against the run a year ago, and looked very good against SDU last week, allowing just 39 yards on the ground.

It's really the match-up of strength versus strength, and whoever wins this battle wins the game.

If the game were in the Rose Bowl, we could give the edge in this match-up to the Bruins. But playing at Neyland Stadium, with 30 freshman and sophomores, as UCLA is going to do, is a huge undertaking, one that's worth at least 7 to 10 points on the score board. We fully anticipate Kevin Prince to show nerves and make some mistakes.

It's a big game for both programs. Tennessee is looking for revenge for last year's loss at the Rose Bowl, a game that many feel was the catalyst to the season's slide. It would also be a big win for Kiffin, at home against a legitimate opponent, in just his second game.

For Neuheisel and the Bruins, it's very significant. UCLA has to have the BYU game from last year on its mind; after beating Tennessee, it went on the road in the second game of the season and got smacked in Provo, 59-0. If UCLA wins this game, the way the schedule works out, it very well could be a big stepping stone to securing a winning record for the season.

But taking a team with young players at so many key positions – including quarterback – to play in Knoxville is just too much to overcome. If you haven't been to Neyland Stadium, you can't understand how overwhelming it can be – the 100,000 orange people, the humidity, those damn orange squares in the end zone that can get you dizzy in the heat.

Tennessee won't roll – UCLA's defense is too good and Tennessee's passing offense won't be that effective having to actually block against a legitimate pass rush. UCLA's offense will sputter, but probably put together a few sustained drives. UCLA's special teams, again, will probably good for at least one score.

Tennessee 31
UCLA 17


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