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Things to Watch for During Tennessee / UCLA

This is a potpourri list based partly on my experience at the Western Kentucky game and partly on some of the observations I've made of the Tennessee Volunteers and the UCLA Bruins.  But for those at home and for those in the stands, there is a lot of spectacle offered in this game.

If You're in the Stands

You'll be able to see things that the TV stations will never bother showing.  Here are a few:

  • Sideline Energy.  The UT sideline will be a hornet's nest of activity.  Watch just how much energy the coaches maintain on the sidelines and how the players respond to it.
  • Sideline Organization.  There is a lot of adrenaline flowing off-field, but it doesn't translate into chaos because everything on the sidelines is orchestrated.  Players have specific regions to congregate in when they're not a part of the action.  Special teams units use those Twister-esque circle boards to ensure the right personnel are ready.  The training assistants are constantly looking for ways to get the sidelines from 99% organized to 100% organized.
  • Sideline-to-Field Communication.  It's easiest to see on offense when the play is called in, but it applies to the defense as well; the procedures are well-rehearsed and the signals very rarely need repeated.  Remember, this was an offense that had Lane Kiffin calling plays in the huddle well into fall camp; keep that in mind and you'll be impressed.
  • Timeout Activity.  When the timeout guy in the red jacket stands on the field and the crowd dies down, the sideline doesn't relax.  There's nothing else happening on the field, so take a gander and watch.
  • Communication with the Fans.  This team gives fans feedback.  More accurately, they'll be calling on fans for noise and support throughout the game.  They're very aware of the hometown faithful and are waiting to see what the fans in attendance do in response to their efforts.

Everybody (at Home and in the Stands)

  • Playclock.  I do not expect any delay of game issues from Tennessee on Saturday.  They move quickly - very quickly - between plays.
  • UCLA's Tight Ends.  I firmly believe that UCLA sandbagged their tight ends against the San Diego St. Aztecs.  Despite having two returners (Ryan Moya and Logan Paulsen) who had 8 receptions for 83 yards against Tennessee last year, the tight ends only managed 3 catches for 18 yards against SDSU.  In the all-familiar game of hiding your playbook for a future opponent, UCLA hid their tight ends.  And as you remember from last year, tight end passes are one easy way to keep an inexperienced quarterback in the game.  If UT can shut the tight end down, Kevin Prince will have to look elsewhere for receivers.
  • Linebackers.  Neither team showed their stuff with the linebackers last week.  Watch for blitzes from both defenses; UT must believe they can get in Prince's head while UCLA will want to find out if Jonathan Crompton is indeed for real this year.
  • The First Step.  In a zone blocking scheme, the critical element is to get position on the defender.  Watch Tennessee's offensive line; if they come off the snap of the ball as a crisp, decisive unit, expect success.  If there are miscommunications that lead to false starts or slow reactions to the snap, the zone blocking battle may be lost before it begins.
  • Punting Speed.  We didn't see either the punting or the field goal games from Tennessee last week (nor did we see any field goal defense from Tennessee), but I'm not so optimistic as to assume we won't see UT punt once or twice this week.  Chad Cunningham claims to have sped up his punting delivery from last year; watch and see if it's true.  (If so, then Eddie Gran needs a street named after him for all he's done for UT already.)
  • Interception Defense.  I am going to assume we'll see UT intercept at least one ball.  One of their strengths last year was their ability to convert from pass defense to interception return blocking in the blink of an eye.  Watch for it again this week.  (You can catch it on the inevitable replays.)
  • When Things Go Wrong.  Things will go wrong.  Watch the coaches and the players to see how they respond.  You'll see disappointment but never despair.
  • When Things Go Right.  After big plays, watch the focus.  How fast does the team get back into the game?  This is a key indicator of whether the team is developing the killer instinct.