Honor of Pac 10 rests with Bruins
There are a handful of things at stake for UCLA this weekend. The Bruins have chance to improve . . . an opportunity to start the season 2-0 . . . oh, and the need to defend the honor of the entire Pacific 10 Conference.
Playing in Knoxville means another dance with Southeastern Conference fans and media, as well as a game against the Volunteers. Those south of the Mason-Dixon line are convinced, with some justification, that there is no better conference than the SEC.
Pac-10 teams have a 3-16 record when traveling to an SEC town since 1980.
So what this game means to a young UCLA team is clear.
“This game is survival of the fittest,” safety Rahim Moore said. “We beat them last season, and they’ve been waiting for this game. This game is going to determine how the rest of our season goes. . . . This is like the Super Bowl for us.”
And what it means to the conference?
Well the perception down South seems to be: unless it’s USC, don’t sweat it, no matter how muggy it gets.
USC has a 2-1 record in SEC road games since 1980.
“USC has been so dominant over the last six or seven years, it is kind of seen as a one-and-done type conference,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said.
“That’s probably not fair. There have been some [Pac-10] teams who were really good the last couple years, but because they have not been able to break through in terms of winning the conference championship, it defines us that way.”
Neuheisel said the time zone difference is part of the perception problem, but he feels the coverage of a conference that went 5-0 in bowl games last season was USC-heavy.
“Watch the story lines on the national broadcasts and 80-90% of the time it’s focused on [USC],” Neuheisel said. “We have to fix that.”
UCLA’s upset of Tennessee, 27-24, at the Rose Bowl last season still has fans, and even some coaches, scratching their heads. The Volunteers averaged 5.2 yards per carry, yet then-coach Phil Fulmer insisted on throwing the ball 42 times.
That mistake is unlikely to be repeated under first-year Coach Lane Kiffin. The Volunteers rolled up 380 yards rushing in a 63-7 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday. Senior tailback Montario Hardesty had 160 yards and freshman tailback Bryce Brown had 104 yards.
UCLA is not the only team in this Saturday’s game giving freshmen a chance. Besides getting Brown carries, Tennessee used true freshmen at wide receiver because of injuries. Marsalis Teague had six receptions for 86 yards and one touchdown, while Nu’Keese Richardson had three receptions for 30 yards.
Tailback Christian Ramirez (ankle) and wide receiver Gavin Ketchum (hamstring) are both “doubtful at best,” Neuheisel said. . . . Reserve strong safety Glenn Love suffered an ankle injury against San Diego State on Saturday, but is expected to play.