Sept. 12, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
In the wake of his first loss as Tennessee's head coach, Lane Kiffin saw something that could prove even more troubling than the Vols' four turnovers against UCLA.
Tennessee got another solid performance from its defense, but the offense was a far cry from the group that dominated Division I newcomer Western Kentucky last week.
And just moments after leaving the field with a 19-15 loss to UCLA, Kiffin wanted to make sure his team doesn't develop a rift between the offense and defense.
"I saw little bit of a mentality during the game and I saw a little bit of the mentality in the locker room before I talked to them that isn't what we are and what we want to be and isn't what a championship mentality is," Kiffin said. "A little bit of finger pointing came out.
"They have to understand it's a team. You don't win that way. You either win or you lose, and everybody on that team lost today, no matter how well you played or didn't play."
The gulf was wide at times on both sides of the ball against UCLA.
Tennessee's defense held UCLA to just 186 yards of total offense. The Bruins (2-0) converted just three times out of 14 tries on fourth down. The defense was also responsible for a short field that led to the Vols' only touchdown of the game.
The offense was out of sync for most of the day, although the running game picked up steam during a 17-play, 69-yard field goal drive midway through the third quarter.
A week after tossing five touchdowns against Western Kentucky, quarterback Jonathan Crompton completed 13 of his 26 passes for 93 yards with three interceptions. And a fumbled exchange between center Cody Sullins and Crompton led to UCLA's only touchdown of the day -- and started a string of four straight UT possessions that ended in turnovers.
But despite the turnovers and troubles moving the ball, Tennessee still had two plays from the UCLA 3-yard line to take the lead in the final minutes.
"Like coach said, we really didn't get into our groove as an offense," Crompton said. "Obviously when you don't, this is the outcome. The upside is, we were in that game at the end. We had four turnovers, and we still came up 1 yard short. That is the one positive of it."
If there's another, it's a pledge from All-American safety Eric Berry.
"We don't need to do any finger pointing, and we won't do any finger pointing," Berry said. "I won't allow that."
Linebacker Nick Reveiz echoed those comments.
Then he began pointing fingers. At himself and the Vols' defense.
"Just like Eric said, there's no finger pointing," Reveiz said. "We're 1-1, and we're going to take it as a team. It's nothing about which side of the ball or whatever.
"As a defense, we made a lot of mistakes. We missed a lot of opportunities that could have made a difference in the game. We didn't do it. Those are things we have to capitalize on."
The loss is also something the Vols will have to quickly recover from, too. Several players referenced the staff's "24-hour rule" for dissecting the previous game, win or lose.
And next week's trip to face No. 1 Florida in The Swamp in the SEC opener for both teams should provide a spark this week despite the loss.
At least that's Kiffin's hope.
"I would sure hope so, going down there for our first time on the road playing by far the most talented team in the country," he said. "I think it would be hard not to be focused and bounce back and get ready for the next game."