Bruins win this one from a defensive stand-point
UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter was a solitary figure, standing alone at one end of Neyland Stadium.
Rows of Tennessee fans were coming to grips with a 19-15 loss to UCLA on Saturday, but Carter was pointing to a patch of blue way up high, where UCLA fans were going nuts in the nosebleed sections.
“Those are my people,” Carter said. “They were way up there, but we could hear them all game.”
All because the UCLA defense put a hush on Volunteers hysteria.
The Bruins held on fourth and goal from the two-yard line with two minutes left, when tackles Jess Ward and David Carter piled up the line allowing Reggie Carter to stop tailback Montario Hardesty at the one.
Even then, though, they knew the job was not done. Before the victory was secure, the UCLA defense trudged once more into the breach in the last minute, stopping the Volunteers on four plays.
“That was the first time since I have been at UCLA that we played in this kind of hostile environment and stayed together as a team,” Carter said.
Bruins voices were heard above and below the stadium, as Coach Rick Neuheisel shouted to his team in the locker room, “We are going to get ourselves back to the pinnacle!”
UCLA, at 2-0, is at least off to a good start this season -- just as the Bruins were last year after an opener in which they defeated Tennessee, 27-24, in overtime in Neuheisel’s first game as coach.
As it turned out, that result gave UCLA false hope on its way to a 4-8 season. It was also the beginning of the end for former Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer, who was ushered out in favor of Lane Kiffin after the season.
The Kiffin Era here began last week with a 63-7 win over Western Kentucky. And while the Bruins’ victory Saturday doesn’t mean they are Bowl Championship Series material just yet, it certainly showed they’re not Western Kentucky.
“If we score points and they don’t score points, we win,” Carter said.
That connect-the-dots philosophy played out late at the goal line. The Volunteers (1-1) had third and goal at the three-yard line, but two plays netted two yards, and UCLA took over with two minutes left.
“We tell them, ‘Don’t let the little guy on your shoulder tell you you’re tired,’ ” UCLA defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. “At my age, you call it a day. But we tell them they are young, they can go all day.”
Carter was in on both tackles.
“I’ve been watching stuff like that on college football since I was a kid,” Carter said. “I was hoping to be in on one of those one day.”
Said Kiffin: “I would think that any time you have two plays that we should be able to run it with the mentality that we have and score.”
Tennessee’s goal-line flop was a snapshot in a bigger picture of offensive inconsistency. The Volunteers had only 208 total yards -- “That’s embarrassing,” Kiffin said -- and their only points in the first half had roots in UCLA breakdowns.
Two third-down penalties kept alive one Tennessee drive that resulted in a 31-yard field goal by Daniel Lincoln. The Bruins also turned the ball over when quarterback Kevin Prince fumbled while being sacked, setting up an 11-yard touchdown run by Hardesty on the next play.
That gave Tennessee a 10-3 lead with 2:58 left in the first quarter, but the Volunteers gained only 20 yards and had three first downs in their next seven possessions.
“When the defense controls the game, like it did in the second and third quarters, it allows us to nurture the offense,” Neuheisel said.
UCLA had only 186 total yards, but the growing pains were worse on the other side of the field. The Volunteers rolled up 380 yards rushing against Western Kentucky, but had only 115 against the Bruins.
That reduced things to pass-fail. As in, when they passed, they failed.
The Bruins intercepted three Jonathan Crompton passes. Safety Rahim Moore intercepted two, giving him five for the season, and cornerback Alterraun Verner had one.
“I think he just likes throwing us the ball,” Verner said.
Defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski also recovered a Crompton fumble.
The turnovers led to 10 UCLA points, including a 12-yard touchdown pass from Prince to fullback Chane Moline that resulted in a 10-10 tie at halftime.
“We felt like the defense was taking over the game, so we felt it was necessary for us to be real thrifty on offense,” Neuheisel said.
The Bruins produced three Kai Forbath field goals (he had four in all) in the second half for a 19-10 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter.
“I kind of put the handcuffs on [offensive coordinator] Norm Chow,” Neuheisel said. “Once we made it a two-score game, it was putting pressure on their offense. I liked that matchup.”
As did his team.
“Everybody says UCLA is soft,” defensive tackle David Carter said. “We’re not soft.”