UCLA 19 Tennessee 15
Attendance (Neyland Stadium): 102,239
There is one thing we learned from today’s litmus test.
The 2009 Tennessee Football Vols are not ready for prime time.
And Lane Kiffin is facing his first crisis as head coach.
Decisiveness is required. Now.
Kai Forbath kicked four field goals, the Vols committed four turnovers, three of them Jonathan Crompton interceptions, and the young and somewhat outsized UCLA showed a lot of grit and tenacity in defeating Tennessee 19 to 15 at Neyland Stadium full of a orange-clad throng rendered mute for the majority of the game.
The prevailing wisdom before today’s game was that Tennessee would show the visitors an orange blitzkrieg from the outset and rattle the young, inexperienced Bruins. But when the game opened with a Chad Cunningham kickoff that went out of bounds giving UCLA decent field possession at their own 40 to open the game, the initial artillery shell had been dodged. And when UCLA drove the ball down the field putting the Vol defense on their heels from the outset, and the redshirt freshman QB Kevin Prince showing no nerves on a third-and-nine conversion in Vol territory followed by a Kai Forbath field goal, the opening strategy didn’t materialize into an advantage. UCLA 3 TENNESSEE 0.
Instead, Tennessee looked a little stunned.
But, Crompton came out of the chute looking pretty sharp, Montario Hardesty ran like he might get 200 by the end of the day, and some good fortune came the way of the Orange when a drive-ending incomplete pass on 3rd-and-12 was saved by a UCLA defender grabbing Crompton’s face mask to keep the drive alive. However Crompton later in the drive nearly threw an interception in the UCLA end zone followed by another throw on third down that was intended for a Vol receiver well-covered by three Bruins, and the Vols had to settle for a Daniel Lincoln field goal to knot the score at three apiece. TENNESSEE 3 UCLA 3.
You got the feeling all of a sudden that Vols would have to win this one with their running game and their defense.
And that’s what the defense tried to do. On UCLA’s next possession, Tennessee’s freshman lineman Willie Bohannon stripped the ball from the Bruin QB, Tennessee recovered the fumble on the UCLA 11 yard line, and the Big Orange was in business. Montario Hardesty ran on the first play right up the middle for a TD, and it all of a sudden looked like the blitzkrieg strategy finally worked, just that it took a quarter to develop. TENNESSEE 10 UCLA 3.
That was pretty much the last good thing the Vols did until the fourth quarter. In the meantime it was a not-so-comedy of errors.
Tennessee stopped UCLA on the next drive using a blitzing defense. And when UCLA punted to the Vols at the start of the second quarter, freshman Nu’Keese Richardson almost bottled the advantage gained when he let the punt bounce into the end zone almost touching the ball that could have ended up in a checkerboard fire drill.
The Vols quickly went three-and-out on their next possession, and UCLA’s return trick was to self-destruct their drive by nullifying a nifty third-and-ten conversion with a delay of game penalty. But when Tennessee got the ball back, Tennessee QB Jonathan Crompton turned into the nightmarish version of last year’s play caller. On second down, he had Quinton Hancock open over the middle but threw the ball behind him incomplete.
And on the next play, Crompton sealed his reincarnation – set up in the shotgun, he’s not ready for the snap that comes his way anyway and fumbles the ball away to the Bruins on the Vol 35.
Tennessee goes again with a blitzing defense that almost works, and with the young Bruin QB out of his rhythm and looking a bit star struck, he throws a short screen pass that with a missed tackle ends up a big third-and-ten conversion that eventually leads to a play action pass to Chane Moline for a touchdown tying the game at ten apiece. TENNESSEE 10 UCLA 10.
With the ball back, Tennessee looked ready to move chains for a while after a Hardesty run and Crompton pass for a first down. But on the following third down, Crompton had Gerald Jones open coming over the middle on a post patter at the UCLA 35, but Jonathan overthrew his open receiver and the ball was intercepted by UCLA’s Rahim Moore, his fourth of the young season.
UCLA quickly went three-and-out on their possession. So Tennessee after receiving UCLA’s poor punt on the Vol 35, looked promising – Hardesty running well again and Crompton completing a couple of passes. But after the UCLA line got to the Vol QB for a sack on first down, Crompton threw another interception out to the left flank, this time picked off by Alterraun Vernon at the UCLA 41 who returned the ball back to the Vol 33.
But with the ball deep in Tennessee territory, the Bruin offense couldn’t do anything productive, instead recovering two of their own fumbles and settling for a 51-yard field goal attempt that just missed wide to the right.
And that was the half. TENNESSEE 10 UCLA 10.
The Prognosis at Half-Time Was Not Good
UCLA was winning the battle in the trenches. Tennessee was having a tough time running on UCLA’s front. UCLA had the ball for 17:20 to Tennessee’s 12:40. And you could see this continuing in a way where the game would right where you didn’t want it to – directly on Crompton’s shoulders. Tennessee had committed three turnovers, two being Crompton interceptions. To be fair, UCLA could only convert one of the three into points, but they certainly stopped Vol drives and did nothing but damage to the fragile psyche of Crompton – he was surely having flashbacks to 2008.
I know I was.
And if it wasn’t for a 15-yard facemask penalty on UCLA on 3rd down that kept a Tennessee drive going, and Tennessee stripping the ball from the Bruin QB deep in UCLA territory, perhaps Tennessee would be down 10 to 0.
So what did Tennessee do after receiving the second-half opening kickoff? You couldn’t make it up better than this – on first and ten at his own 20, Crompton promptly threw his third interception of the day to, that’s right, Rahim Moore, his second of the day and fifth of the season. And UCLA after – you’re right again – can’t do anything with the ball, settles for another field goal by Kai Forbath. UCLA 13 TENNESSEE 10.
But after Tennessee goes three-and-out, UCLA does do something with the ball, driving the ball to the Tennessee 14 where Mr. Forbath kicks his third field goal of the afternoon. UCLA 16 TENNESSEE 10.
Déjà vu strikes again. Tennessee goes three-and-out, and UCLA gets the ball back, makes a few first downs, and gives Kai Forbath a chance at his fourth field goal of the game which he converts. UCLA 19 TENNESSEE 10.
Now the game has settled into one of those afternoons where you have that feeling in the pit of your stomach that there is no way out. You just realized that you’re very slowly being boiled alive, one field goal at a time.
Setting Up The Final Act
But instead, the game actually got pretty good, with a lot of suspense, twists and turns. And events that on first blush looked helpful but in quick retrospect were potentially fatal.
Now it was Tennessee’s turn to control the ball. Thoroughly. But the reason for it was only part good, with part of it being very unfortunate.
Freshman Bryce Brown opened the drive with a power burst right up the middle for a first down. Then, and here’s the key, with UCLA’s defense knowing for a fact that Crompton isn’t going to get close to making any serious attempt at a pass, Tennessee makes another first down only because he his hit after sliding to the ground to avoid a tackle on a run. So now, after a short pass completion on second down, Tennessee finds themselves in UCLA territory for the first time since late in the first quarter. And just after the third quarter ended, the Vols find a fourth-and-one at the UCLA 31.
Lane Kiffin doesn’t blink and orders the Orange to go for it – Hardesty does just that and gets it done. Now it’s Bryce Brown’s turn. The freshman catches a short pass for 6, runs for 3, and then runs for a first down.
Finally, the big crowd is back. And Hardesty gives great effort in return if only for two yards.
And for me, the big play of the game happens on third-and-seven on the UCLA 11. Crompton throws a nice pass to Denarius Moor on the right for about six, but he drops it while taking his eye off the ball in anticipation of making a quick move to the inside. So what would be pretty good odds that would turn into a TD, the Vols settle for a Daniel Lincoln 28 yard field goal. UCLA 19 TENNESSEE 13.
A 17-play drive for 69 yards. Count ‘em. 17 plays. The drive chewed 7:43 off the clock. Now we have less than 10 minutes to go. UCLA, of course, does nothing with the ball, three-and-out, and the old house is roaring. Tennessee collects the punt at the Vol 46 with 8:41 left.
That means we better score on this drive because it’s going to take 7 or 8 minutes to do so.
And that’s exactly what happened. But not in the way you would have expected.
Tennessee gets a first down on three running plays, and then gets another first down, this time taking four running plays to do so. That’s right. The Vols went for it again on 4th and short, and made it. But now we’re really chewing clock. First-and-ten at the UCLA 31 with 5:05 left.
Hardesty runs right into a brick wall on first down – a wall than now is just looking run, like a dead-red fast ball hitter in baseball. But Lord Have Mercy. What had to happen did. Crompton makes a nice pass over the middle to Hancock, and now the Vols have it first and goal on the UCLA 7.
But four running plays later – that’s right, we went for it on 4th down for the third time – the Vols are stopped inside the Bruin 1 yard line and UCLA takes over on downs.
Be Careful What You Wish For – You Just Might Get it
Any time you have your opponent backed within its own one yard line, the automatic thought is a safety. Two points and the ball, baby.
Prior to the first down snap, UCLA is called for 12 men on the field. But because of where the ball was, half the distance to the goal line is three inches. So that’s all the Vols got. After stopping Jonathan Franklin at the line of scrimmage, second-and-ten gave us some real drama. Jonathan Franklin rushed again, this time to left tackle and was downed for a one yard gain. But Tennessee alertly challenged the play. The replay clearly showed that Franklin had indeed fumbled the ball, but the question was whether he recovered it. After what seemed an eternity while the officials tried to solve that riddle, the ruling stood – he recovered his own fumble, giving the Bruins a third-and-nine and costing Tennessee a timeout.
Now, on third down, the redshirt freshman Bruin QB is back in his end zone looking to pass. Finding nobody, he desperately tries to run out of it to some green space with no orange and white checkerboard. Safety? Get him!!! GET HIM!!!!!!!
Prince is tackled, but what looks like a gain of a couple of inches to get himself out of the end zone, the officials call a safety. Crowd goes nuts. Why? Because, like I said, in that situation, the knee-jerk reaction is to sack the opponent in their own end zone and get the ball. And the knee-jerk reaction of a Vol fan is to hope for a safety.
And the knee-jerk reaction for the QB is to get out of the end zone.
Well, UCLA challenge the safety call, and are unsuccessful (still looks like a questionable call on the replay to me). SAFETY. UCLA 19 TENNESSEE 15.
Perplexing. If I’m UCLA, I tell the QB before the pass play that if he doesn’t find a receiver as open as the state of Montana, and he can’t run for a first down, then take the safety. Because two points to Tennessee gives them no advantage, and free-kicking from the 20 as opposed to punting out of the back of your own end zone gives you a significant advantage.
So even though UCLA lost the challenge to the call, I’m betting that the Bruin brain trust about now is really glad that the safety call stood.
We got our two points and are going to get the ball.
But two points with a six point lead still requires us to score a touchdown to tie and possibly win. These two points are nothing but bad news.
Instead of punting with his heels on the back of his own end zone with orange-colored lions rushing at him in a den of insufferable noise, Jeff Locke gets to scratch his ass while standing untroubled at his own 20 to free-kick the orb to the Vols.
And with 1:41 left, and a questionable quarterback, we have no chance whatsoever. Game over.
And sure enough, game was over, ending in a painful way where Crompton and Gerald Jones aren’t on the same page – again – and hand the ball to the Bruins so that they can knee the game away.
UCLA 19 TENNESSEE 15.
208 total yards. 13 of 26 for 93 yards passing. 4 turnovers.
That’s not a winning formula against a well-coached team, even at home in front of over 102,000 fans.
According to the game story on ESPN, Lane Kiffin said he say a few of his players trying to point fingers in the locker room after the game.
Well, I think Coach Kiffin and staff need to get a hold of that locker room activity. I don’t want to see that behavior turn into a demoralization of the squad in this young season.
So, I’ll do what the players shouldn’t be doing.
Crompton is ineffective against quality competition to the point where he is a liability. And because he is a senior and 23 years old, meaning he has had chance after chance after chance, and lots of quality competition is ahead on the schedule, he is most likely beyond meaningful improvement.
We saw this last season. A season that was so excrutiating because of the QB controversy that developed from one thing – Crompton’s ineffectiveness.
Philip Fulmer stuck with Crompton apparently because of Crompton’s performance on the practice field. Fulmer eventually relented and played Nick Stevens. But Nick was put into an uncertain situation mismanaged by a coaching staff that didn’t have the respect of the players.
This year is different. At least it is now. If Kiffin will choose Stevens with a decisive stroke of commitment for the rest of the season – not “let’s put him in next week and see how he does” – Kiffin can’t lose. Kiffin will fail with Crompton. If he fails with Stevens, he still fails, but not because he stuck with a known commodity doomed to failure. Nobody in the Vol Nation believes that Crompton will be successful in any meaningful way.
The ONLY other option is to make the change on Sunday. Announce it to the world. Don’t wait for the siren song of practice to mislead us once again into thinking that Crompton is the better QB. And make Stevens the starter against the hated Gators, but only if he knows with certainty that no matter what happens, he will be the starter for the rest of the season. Don’t make his future rest on his performance against Florida. That would not be fair.
So, I think the decision is not if but when. A serious option to consider is to admit that next week’s game in Gainsville is a lost cause and thus don’t throw Stevens to the lions and let him suffer the mental scars of a humiliating defeat. Instead, throw Crompton in to get eaten alive, which will certainly happen, and then put Stevens in the second half to mop up.
I think the right timing for the decision is obvious. This week. Stevens is the man, come hell or high water. It would be a good decision to make from Kiffin’s position. It would be a good decision from the view of the fans. And it would likely be a good decision for the squad. There is no way that Crompton has the confidence of his teammates, and it can only get worse from here on with him as QB.
It is going to be a fascinating next few days to see what Kiffin does.
10:44 Kai Forbath kicks a 26 yard field goal. UCLA 3 TENN 0. The field goal capped a 10 play, 51 yard drive lasting 4:16.
5:07 Daniel Lincoln kicks a 31 yard field goal. GOOOOOOD! TENN 3 UCLA 3. The field goal capped a 13 play, 66 yard drive, lasting 5:37.
2:58 Montario Hardesty runs for 11 yards. GIVE HIM SIX! TOUCHDOWN TENNESSEE. Daniel Lincoln‘s extra point is GOOOOOOD! TENN 10 UCLA 3. The TD run was the only play of the drive lasting 0:06.
7:09 Chane Moline catches a pass from Kevin Prince for 12 yards and a touchdown. Kai Forbath’s extra point is Good. The field goal capped a 7 play, 35 yard drive lasting 2:42. TENN 10 UCLA 10.
14:00 Kai Forbath kicks a 39 yard field goal. UCLA 13 TENN 10. The field goal capped a 4 play, 4 yard drive lasting 0:54.
9:53 Kai Forbath kicks a 31 yard field goal. UCLA 16 TENN 10. The field goal capped a 6 play, 41 yard drive lasting 2:34.
2:39 Kai Forbath kicks a 47 yard field goal. UCLA 19 TENN 10. The field goal capped a 10 play, 31 yard drive lasting 5:07.
9:56 Daniel Lincoln kicks a 28 yard field goal. GOOOOOOD! UCLA 19 TENN 13. The field goal capped a 17 play, 69 yard drive, lasting 7:43.
1:41 Kevin Prince sacked in the end zone. SAFETY! UCLA 19 TENN 15.
GAME INFORMATION LINKS (all ESPN.com)
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