It was enough of a problem already.
Tennessee was bringing Peyton Manning, college football's best quarterback, to the Rose Bowl, and UCLA was coming off a game at Washington State in which its defense had given up passing yardage by the truckload.
And then Wednesday, the problem got tougher when Shaun Williams, the Bruins' best defensive back--for that matter, their best player, according to Coach Bob Toledo--was blocking in a punt-coverage drill when a player rolled into his ankle.
Prognosis: extremely doubtful for Saturday.
Effect: chilling to any chance UCLA has of beating the Volunteers.
"It's very disheartening," Toledo said. "It would be like losing [quarterback] Cade [McNown] on offense. It hurts us. You don't replace a guy who's your best football player."
The Bruins will try to with Glenn Thompkins, who didn't play a snap at Washington State but replaced Williams in two games last season. Thompkins played well enough at California but was torched for a touchdown at the Rose Bowl against Stanford.
The Bruins will write Williams out of the game plan, but it's emphasis won't change: They need to turn up the heat on Manning.
That much they've known since they heard he had just said no to the NFL and would be coming back to Tennessee for a senior season.
That was the first week of March, when David Cutliffe, the Volunteer offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, got the news when he was out of town looking for help.
"I was in Atlanta looking at running-game techniques," said Cutliffe, the Volunteer offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. "We were talking about a 60-40 run offense if Peyton left. That's out the window and we're back to 70-30 pass, maybe even 80-20 pass."
Rocky Long learned that quickly enough Sunday. After watching videotape of UCLA's defensive debacle in a 37-34 loss at Washington State, he turned his attention to the future.
"I put the Texas Tech tape on and the first thing I see is four wides, so how do you think that made me feel?" said Long, the Bruin defensive coordinator, talking about a four-wide receiver formation Tennessee used on the opening play of a 52-17 thumping of the Red Raiders in which Manning threw five touchdown passes.
"That's the formation that Washington State used almost exclusively," Long continued. "Last year [the Volunteers used] very little four-wide and three-wide formations. This year they are. So they're not quite the same as last year, and I think Peyton Manning's better."
As if he had to be.
Like most teams playing Tennessee, UCLA skewed its defense to stopping the run a year ago, saying that if the Volunteers were going to win, Manning was going to have to win for them.
Tennessee ran for only 69 yards in 36 carries, and Manning threw an interception that was returned 51 yards by Abdul McCullough for a UCLA touchdown. But Manning also threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns and sneaked for two more scores.
Tennessee 35, UCLA 20.
"I remember that it was their first game, and we had to watch Oregon State films [to prepare for the defense] because that's where Rocky Long had coached before," Manning said. "Now, two things will help out: We played them last year, and they've played a game."
And Tennessee has seen the Bruin defense give up 529 yards--371 of them on Ryan Leaf passes--to Washington State.
Ryan Leaf is a good quarterback.
Peyton Manning is a great one.
"He's the best quarterback that we will probably face," Toledo said. "He can play for most teams in the NFL right now. . . . If I was Peyton Manning, yeah, I'd be excited about this week too."
Jim Pletcher found the key to beating Manning and Tennessee.
"I don't think it's anything all that mysterious," said Pletcher, defensive coordinator at Memphis, the last team to beat the Volunteers.
Memphis won, 21-17, on Nov. 9 by holding Tennessee to 85 yards in 49 carries, by pressuring Manning, by cutting off plays before they became big ones . . . and by getting a little luck.
The Tigers intercepted two passes--one in the end zone--and sacked Manning three times. His longest completion was 30 yards, to Jermaine Copeland.
"We basically wanted to keep everything in front of us," Pletcher said. "We figured the best way to handle it is for our defense to make sure they could play another down."
In the fourth quarter against UCLA last season, Manning lofted a 53-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Joey Kent. It was one of 47 plays of 20 or more yards that UCLA gave up last season. The Bruins gave up 10 against Washington State on Saturday.
"I know I sound like a broken record here," Long said, "but the only way to disrupt a great quarterback is with pressure. Last week we played an excellent quarterback, but we didn't get the kind of pressure we needed and he chewed us up pretty good. If we don't get pressure on Peyton Manning, he's got the ability to do the same thing."
The Bruins hit Leaf 10 times and put him on the ground four times, but on each occasion he got off a pass. He was not sacked.
"I think we played tentatively at times," Long said. "We weren't hitting our rush lanes as hard or as quickly as I know we can. And I thought Washington State did an excellent job picking up our blitzes that we ran. If we were playing somebody who wasn't as big or strong as Ryan Leaf, I think we would have had four sacks, legitimately had four sacks."
Leaf is 6 feet 6, 240 pounds. Manning is 6-5, 222.
And he must be pressured for UCLA to win.
"He's got to know that he's going to get hit," Toledo said. "We hit him last year and we're going to hit him again. We're going to come after him.
"If you just sit back and you think you're going to [play zone defense against] Manning, he's going to pick you apart."
UCLA used zone and man-to-man defenses against Washington State about evenly, and the Bruins went to great lengths to disguise those defenses. But the attempts at subterfuge often moved defenders out of position.
That's largely gone. What Manning will see is what he will get, and it's up to him to beat it. And for UCLA not to give him enough time to beat it.
"We'll simplify it and not disguise as much and hope that the guys play better," Long said.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
No. 3 TENNESSEE (1-0) at UCLA (0-1)
Rose Bowl, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7