In what was possibly the most entertaining game of the first week, UCLA came back from a four point deficit to beat the 18th ranked Volunteers 27-24 in overtime. This was the second game of week one where a team won despite haveing their quarterback throw four interceptions (South Carolina the other). Kevin Craft came out blazing in the second half to lead the charge for the Bruins. Neuheisel had his team ready, which really showed in all the college games this week even though he almost gave it back in the end. In the post-game interview with Holly Rowe, Rick couldn't contain his excitement uttering "It's good to be back at UCLA, baby!" I'm guessing it was the euphoria that would lead one to call Holly Rowe "baby".
Having spent the Labor Day weekend in Tennessee, I can tell you that the Volunteer faithful, as they always are, were hopeful about this season. Playing the "no respect" card after reaching the SEC title game a year ago and having a chance to win it before a Eric Ainge close-range interception to LSU, UT and its fans felt they could slip past Florida and Georgia again. They still can, but this loss ends any delusional title hopes the program had and sets a bad tone for the (cliché alert) much maligned Phil Fulmer. The Vols would get the title game nod if they run the table from here out, but that is an incredibly delusional theory in itself.
Unlike last year, the Vols were the clear favorite coming into the game. UCLA lost three experienced starters in the first quarter and Kevin Craft looked lost and timid. It was the Bruins defense lead by their big defensive tackles and the nephew brothers of Brian Bosworth (sans headband, earring, and bright blonde mullet) that kept them in the game. An early special teams TD gave them the early lead, but then Tennessee responded with a TD of its own. A pick six thrown by Craft with just 23 seconds left before the half seemed to seal the Bruins fate. They had kept it close but gave it away. At halftime Neuheisel said he encouraged his third string QB on, which would have been a change from some of the tongue-lashing he gave Craft on the sidelines on after his 2nd, 3rd and 4th INTs. In the 2nd half Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow let Craft loose. They simply decided that they had battled and amde a good effort, but the only way to win the game is to get this kid throwing the ball quickly and down the field. If they had bottled Craft up, and played the field position game, they would have lost, but would have gotten respect from the media for hanging in there with a superior opponent, but that is not Rick Neuheisel's style. They were going to go down swinging, and it turned out that Craft found his rhythm.
All of a sudden Tennessee seemed flat-footed. Their defense was slow to react and Norm Chow pounced. It is a credit to Neuheisel for having the team ready to go in week 1. So many games in the first week featured teams whose coaches did not have them in proper condition or mentally ready to play (I'm looking at you Tommy Bowden). The one slip I think UCLA did make was to pooch the kick-off following the go ahead score with 23 seconds left. The Vols returned it to near mid-field and then the Bruins went ultra prevent defense Madden style. They allowed Crompton to take off two big chunks of yardage with minimal pass rush setting up the tying field goal. When being aggresive and playing to win got you a lead with under half a minute left, why change strategies? Daniel Lincoln nailed the 47 yarder, but never should have been that close to begin with. The Bruins gained no yards on their opening possesion of overtime, but hit a field goal. It seemed the door was open, but Tennessee never walked through it and Lincoln missed his third kick of the game.
It is unclear how each of these teams will end up, but in this game it was apparent the coaching staff of UCLA that had their team prepared to battle, handle adversity, and beleived they could win. The Vols staff had an easier task: execute the offense and don't make mistakes but in that they fell short.