Well, that is why they play them...
A heavily favored Tennessee squad walked into the Rose Bowl, and will be limping home trying to figure out what went wrong -- and make no mistake, something went terribly wrong.
On the whole, it was a tale of two halves -- the Vols owned the first-half, the Bruins the second. Well, at least the Vols should have owned the first-half. After grabbing 4 first-half interceptions, the Vols had a paltry 14 points at the end of the first half.
In the end, however, UCLA rallied the troops and fought down the stretch and managed to take the lead with only seconds left in the game. The anemic Tennessee offense seemed down for the count, but Jonathan Crompton managed the team as well as he had all night, leading the Orange down the field for a Daniel Lincoln field goal to tie the game at 24 with 5 seconds on the clock.
Many in Big Orange Country felt they had just dodged a bullet -- given Tennessee's record in overtime games. They were even more buoyed up with hope after the Tennessee defense -- which had flailed about unsuccessfully in the fourth-quarter -- allowed no yards in overtime.
But that is why they play them...
After gaining a net of 8 yards, Daniel Lincoln came on to attempt a 34-yard field goal attempt to send the game into a second overtime. The kick sailed wide left, and with it went the Vols hopes of coming out strong to start the season.
Final Score: UCLA 27 Tennessee 24
Obviously, once I've had a little time to think about the game, I am sure I'll have more thoughts for everyone out there to ignore. That said, here are my initial thoughts.
Until the fourth-quarter, I would have given the defense excellent marks. They played with more aggressive tenacity than I have seen any Tennessee team play with in the first game of the season in at least a decade. They looked well prepared and well coached -- until late in the game I'd have given them an "A" for the game.
Four interceptions is always a nice statistic, but so was the 2 first downs that UCLA managed in the first-half. The Vols were hard-hitting and focused.
Once UCLA managed to find its legs in the fourth-quarter, however, they started running roughshod over the Tennessee defense, with a workmanlike drive using short screen passes and a quick tempo. At many times, the Vol defense seemed poorly schemed late in the game, rushing 4 and 5 on each play rather than trying to stop the screens. That said, the biggest problem it appeared they were dealing with was fatigue due to the fact they had been on the field far longer than they should have been in the fourth.
Thus, I am not going to mark the squad down too much (since it was the first game and due to the offensive woes) -- the fact is that they gave a great effort. The defense showed that they have what it takes to be a really excellent squad this year -- potentially one of the best in the SEC -- once they get a chance to gel and play together a little more.
In the end, I'm giving them a C+ / B-.
OffenseI'm not even going to try to breakdown all of the problems that the Vols had on offense...
I realize that Tennessee has a new quarterback and a new offensive scheme. I expected there to be some growing pains. I did not expect the Vols to rely upon their defense to win games -- by scoring all the points.
It was bad, it was very bad...
I am not ready to decide where I think the problem lies, but the Vols showed a real lack of ability to move the ball consistently. Crompton had a horrible time throwing the ball when under pressure -- to the point of being completely ineffective. Both Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty showed flashes of brilliance at times in the running game, but at other times were unable to make real gains.
At this early point after the game, all I can say is that there is much work to be done on offense.
At this point, I'm giving the offense a D.
Daniel Lincoln missed three field goal attempts, but only one of which he really should have hit -- unfortunately, that one was the one which really mattered. The punt unit also gave up a block, which led to an immediate touchdown. The kick return unit, however, showed some real fire and the potential for some big plays down the stretch.
This unit needs to work on some things, but they appear to, at least, be on the right track.
For now, I'm giving them a C-.
There is so much more to discuss and think about after this game -- which is always the case with a loss. I am not going to try to do it tonight.
I will however, say one thing:
This is only the first game of the season -- don't give up on the Vols yet. Despite the problems they had tonight, they never gave up. They have earned the chance to redeem themselves...
I, along with Home Sweet Home, will have more on this game in the coming days, but in the meantime -- though I am disappointed -- all I can say is Go Vols!
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