Home Groan / TENNESSEE 30, UCLA 24
Take that, Kirk Herbstreit, you Saturday-morning-quarterbacking, first-guessing ESPN prognosticator you.
Take that for saying UCLA could suffer its worst loss in history.
The Bruins didn’t, but . . .
“ ‘But’ is killing us,” quarterback Cade McNown said after the Bruins rallied from a 24-point deficit Saturday at the Rose Bowl, only to fall short in a 30-24 loss to third-ranked Tennessee.
“I don’t just want to give a good effort. That’s not good enough. I want to win. I don’t care how we win, I just want to win.”
It was the second second-half rally to futility for UCLA in an 0-2 season that began with a 37-34 loss at Washington State.
“This is tough because you start to hear some of the same things like ‘Way to come back, way to come back,’ ” said McNown, who threw for 400 yards. “You don’t want to hear repeated coaching things. They’ll probably say the same things next week, like, ‘Guys, we could have had it, could have had it,’ but that’s not good enough.
“But . . . “
But the Bruins didn’t win, after listening to Coach Bob Toledo quoting Herbstreit putting them down.
“That makes a lot of us mad,” said defensive end Weldon Forde, who recovered a fumble, broke up a pass and spent a long Saturday chasing Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.
“A lot of us have a lot of pride, and hearing something like that infuriates us. That sort of thing fed the defense.”
They didn’t win, in part because McNown spotted Tennessee (2-0) a 9-0 lead in the first quarter when he was sacked in the end zone and threw an interception that was returned 57 yards for a touchdown by Cory Gaines.
But he also led a rally in the final quarter, fueled largely by Tennessee mistakes and his own passing.
“It was our fault they came back,” said Manning, who fueled his Heisman Trophy hopes with a 341-yard passing day, completing 28 of his 49 throws and finding Jermaine Copeland on a 24-yard scoring play and Marcus Nash on one covering 39 yards.
But he also threw an interception that led to UCLA’s first points, a 44-yard field goal by Chris Sailer on the final play of the first half that cut the Tennessee lead to 24-3.
Manning completed only seven of 21 passes for 100 yards in the second half.
“It was a combination of us stopping ourselves,” he said of UCLA’s comeback. “We just didn’t make the plays that we made in the first half. In the second half, we gave them too many chances.”
Standing tallest among the givers was punter David Leaverton, who shanked a punt that covered only 25 yards to let the Bruins start their final drive from their 48; who shanked another only 16 yards to give UCLA the ball on the Tennessee 23 on the Bruins’ final scoring drive; and who tried to call timeout on a punt, only to learn that long snapper Kevin Gregory would interpret the signal as Leaverton’s readiness to receive the ball.
He wasn’t, and the ball sailed 22 yards backward, into the end zone and beyond for a UCLA safety that cut the deficit to 27-15.
And Leaverton shanked the free kick after the safety to give the Bruins the ball on their own 42 to start a five-play, 57-yard drive that had as its final play a 50-yard screen pass completion from McNown to Skip Hicks that cut the Volunteer edge to 27-21.
“We played the kicking game like crap,” understated Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer, relieved but perturbed.
The same could be said for UCLA’s final drive, which faltered on fourth down on the Tennessee 20 with 27 seconds to play.
The Bruin defense, much-maligned all week after cluttering Pullman, Wash., with mistakes, had turned a Tennessee series into a three-downs-and-shanked-punt fiasco and gotten UCLA the ball on the Bruin 48.
Passes to Danny Farmer and Mike Grieb gleaned a first down, and a five-yard run by Hicks gained five yards, to the Volunteer 22.
A pass to Hicks made it third and three on the 20, from which Hicks carried again, but for no gain.
McNown’s fourth-down pass sailed over Eric Scott’s head with 27 seconds to play and it was left to Tennessee merely to kill those 27 seconds.
“I told [offensive coordinator] Al [Borges], ‘You’ve got two plays to make a first down’ and we didn’t make it,” Toledo said of the third-down run by Hicks, who gained 80 yards in 16 runs and added 117 yards on seven pass receptions, but who fumbled the ball away on the Tennessee 21 with 2:04 to play.
“We took a good running back and tried to make a first down and didn’t make it,” Toledo said. “It was a second-down trap we ran against USC [last season] and we scored a touchdown, so it was a good play then.”
Not so good Saturday, in a game in which early momentum was denied when an apparent fumble and UCLA touchdown was ruled no fumble and Tennessee ball.
“The returner’s forward progress was ruled to have been stopped,” referee Bill Richardson said of the call that side judge Brian O’Cain made. O’Cain ruled that Tennessee’s Terry Fair had been stopped by Michael Wiley before dropping a ball that Eric Whitfield recovered and carried into the Volunteer end zone.
“Therefore, by rule, no further action can occur,” said Richardson, though replays disputed the call. “He cannot break free and run farther, nor can he fumble a dead ball.”
UCLA had some momentum, but “then we would do some things that would hurt the momentum,” McNown said. “It would be great if we could go down and just punch it right in, but we would go down and get a field goal. Little things that, if we had done what we know we can do and put it in the end zone, it would help the momentum even more.
“They were giving us every opportunity.”
The Bruins just couldn’t take advantage of enough of them.
Take that, Kirk Herbstreit. The worst loss is still 103-0, to Whittier in 1921.
Or maybe the worst loss is one in which you come so close, for the second week in a row and have to hear . . . “but.”
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