Nevin McKenzie scores a TD on one of four UT interceptions.
Sept. 1, 2008
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Rick Neuheisel couldn't have asked for a much more exciting game to begin his era as UCLA coach.
Quarterback Kevin Craft, like Neuheisel making his Bruins' debut Monday night, bounced back from a horrible first half to spark the offense in the second, and Kai Forbath's 42-yard field goal in overtime gave UCLA a 27-24 victory over No. 18 Tennessee in a wild season opener.
Neuheisel, a former UCLA quarterback who was the 1984 Rose Bowl MVP, returned as head coach last December after Karl Dorrell was fired. The Bruins, plagued by quarterback injuries, went 6-7 last year.
"It was a thrill for me to be on the sidelines," Neuheisel said. "At one point an official said, `Are you having fun?' I said, `For an opening act, this is a lot of fun.'
"It's been a hard five years being away from college football. This is what I want to do."
The underdog Bruins, who took the lead with 27 seconds left in regulation, were forced into overtime when the Volunteers' Daniel Lincoln kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired.
But in the overtime, when neither the Bruins nor the Vols were able pick up a first down, Forbath made his kick and then Lincoln missed from 34 yards.
New Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton finished 19-of-41 for 189 yards, with one interception.
Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said he knew UCLA would be a test.
"They were crying about the quarterback situation; I knew darn well they'd be ready for us," Fulmer said. "We made enough mistakes tonight to fill three or four games.
"We will play better teams than UCLA is, and I know we're a better team than we were tonight."
Craft, who threw four interceptions and totaled 66 yards in the opening half, went 18-of-25 for 193 yards and one touchdown in the second half without an interception.
Asked if he considered giving the quarterback the hook at halftime, Neuheisel said, "I told Craft that I threw four interceptions in my first start, but (Coach) Terry Donahue waited until the third game before he pulled me."
Neuheisel, who brought in Norm Chow as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said, "Norm did a masterful job of calming Kevin down at halftime and calling a brilliant clock drive (in the final 2 minutes). (Defensive coordinator) DeWayne (Walker) did a great job -- his defense kept us in the game."
Craft, a junior college transfer who was a third-stringer for the Bruins before injuries to the first two quarterbacks pressed him into the starting role, finished 25-of-43 for 259 yards, with the one touchdown and four interceptions.
"It was just a matter of settling down," Craft said. "I wasn't nervous at all. I just wasn't in a good rhythm. In the second half, I found it."
Fulmer was impressed, saying, "The kid (Craft) is a coach's son, a very talented young man. He throws the ball extremely well. He threw four picks in the first half, but it didn't seem to faze him. He just executed very well in the second half."
His touchdown pass was a 3-yarder to Ryan Moya that capped a 70-yard drive and gave the Bruins a 24-21 lead with 27 seconds left. The Vols had gone up 21-17 on Montario Hardesty's 20-yard run with 1:54 to play.
After the Bruins went back in front, the Vols answered with a quick 27-yard march that ended with Lincoln's tying field goal.
Raymond Carter gave UCLA a 17-14 lead earlier in the fourth with a 3-yard scoring run.
UCLA lost three starters in the first half -- tailback Khalil Bell with an ankle injury, tight end Logan Paulsen to a fractured foot and wide receiver Marcus Everett to a toe injury.
After Akeem Ayers blocked a punt and Sean Westgate returned it 17 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter to give the Bruins a 7-0 lead, the Vols came back with two touchdowns in the second. The blocked punt return for a touchdown was the first allowed by Tennessee since Fulmer became coach in 1992.
Hardesty capped an 80-yard drive when he sliced outside left tackle and sprinted into the end zone from 11 yards out to draw Tennessee even. Nevin McKenzie put the Vols in front when he picked off Craft's pass up the middle, cut to the sideline and raced 61 yards to score 23 seconds before halftime.
Both offenses were ragged in the first half, with Craft having a particularly miserable time. He went 7-of-18 and three of his four interceptions were thrown right at defenders.
Crompton did have 119 yards passing by halftime, going 11-of-23, with one interception.
Lincoln was short on two field goal tries in the opening half, from 51 yards in the first quarter and 55 in the second.
Craft, who started five games at San Diego State in 2006, became the UCLA starter after Patrick Cowan went out for the year with a knee injury in spring practice, and backup Ben Olson broke a bone in his right foot in practice on Aug. 9. Olson is expected to be sidelined for at least another month.
Along with a new quarterback, each team was beginning its first season with a new offensive coordinator, Norm Chow at UCLA and Dave Clawson with the Vols.
Tennessee won the SEC East and finished 10-4 last year, with one of the losses a 45-31 defeat to California at Berkeley in the Vols' season opener.