UCLA's decision to arrive in Knoxville two days early for the game paid off, as the well-rested and acclimated Bruins upset the Tennessee Volunteers in a defensive slugfest, 19-15.
Turnovers were the definitive story on the day, as the one lost fumble by UCLA led to Tennessee's only touchdown on the day, while the three interceptions and one lost fumble by Tennessee allowed the Bruins to score 10 points that would prove crucial to their victory in Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers will now have to answer some questions about their performance, including whether the interceptions and errant passes thrown by Jonathan Crompton were flukes, or if Crompton is indeed back to his 2008 habits. His plight will not be helped much in the eyes of the Volunteer faithful as even the fumble recovered by UCLA was one that had last touched his hands (on a botched snap when Cody Sullins initiated the play too early).
Once again, the UCLA Bruins walk out with a narrow win against the Tennessee Volunteers, giving the Westwood faithful reason for hope that their season will go well and giving the homecrowd questions as to just how long the Kiffin transformation will take. Little time is available for such questions, however, as the Volunteers travel to Gainesville in seven days to take on the divisional rival Florida Gators.
UCLA took the opening kickoff and turned in a nice opening drive to score the first three points of the game on a 26-yard Kai Forbath field goal. With a little penalty help from the Bruins, the Volunteers responded in kind with a 31-yard field goal from Daniel Lincoln. After a UCLA fumble placed the Volunteers in the red zone, a one-play drive scored the first touchdown for the Vols with an eleven-yard run by Montario Hardesty. From there on out, the defenses settled in for both teams, and little offense was to be found. After a Volunteer fumble on a snap miscue gave the Bruins the ball at the 34-yard line of Tennessee, the Bruins managed to tie the game with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Prince to Chane Moline. A last-second field goal miss by Kai Forbath ended the half with a 10-10 tie.
The entire first half can be summarized in one word: mistakes. Both teams had more than their share of errors, from the UCLA face mask penalty that extended the Tennessee drive for their first points on the day to the two interceptions thrown by Jonathan Crompton. Both teams had some issues with timing on the play count; Tennessee lost one fumble due to an early snap by Cody Sullins that Crompton was not prepared to receive, and UCLA saw one of their drives killed by a premature snap to Prince in the shotgun (which was recovered by Prince).
But while the penalties and lone fumble turnover by UCLA slowed their team down, late turnovers by the Vols froze the team. In order the Volunteers offense ended the final three drives of the half with a fumble, an interception, and another interception.
The second half started exactly where the first half left off; with the ball on their own 20, the first play from scrimmage for the Volunteers was another interception (the second by Rahim Moore). UCLA then followed that and the next two three-and-out series with three field goals for a 19-10 lead near the end of the third quarter. Tennessee finally got a little offense going with a couple of first downs to end the third quarter, still trailing 19-10.
The quarter-spanning drive paid dividends for the Vols, ending in a 28-yard field goal by Daniel Lincoln and reducing the UCLA lead to six points at 19-13. The Vols defense held strong on the next series, forcing UCLA to punt after three downs and the loss of a yard. The ground game for Tennessee came through strong, converting key third and fourth downs to keep the drive alive until a pass from Crompton to Quintin Hancock gave the Volunteers first and goal. But running up the middle too often caught up to the Vols when a fourth and goal from the 3 yard line failed as UCLA stacked the center of the defense against Montario Hardesty, leaving less than a yard between Tennessee and an extra-point attempt for the lead.
Tennessee had one last gasp when a safety cut the lead to 19-15 and a chance with the ball. But, when forced to throw the ball, Tennessee was unable to manage a single first down and could do nothing but watch as UCLA knelt the ball down for the win.
One gets the feeling that if Tennessee had limited the mistakes, the Volunteers could have won this game, and won it handily. The defense was absolutely dominant in holding the Bruins to a mere 186 yards on the day (101 passing and 85 rushing). The offense of Tennessee, however, had only 208 yards to their own name, as the four turnovers tended to happen early in drives and kept them off the field. There are indeed positives for the Volunteer faithful to take from this game (only 2 penalties for 10 yards, a stingy defense, several balls knocked loose that were recovered by UCLA, no turnovers by receivers or rushers, and winning the time of possession despite the 4-1 turnover margin), but these will be difficult to see through the haze of defeat, as the all-too-painful familiarity of turnovers stirs up images of the offensive futility of 2008.