Gameday recap: Tennessee 15, UCLA 19
Tennessee wanted to establish a power rushing attack.
It couldn't pick up the 3 yards it needed most with two chances.
The Vols looked like a team that was confident in their quarterback a week ago.
In Saturday's 19-15 loss to UCLA at Neyland Stadium, they turned into one seemingly keeping the game out of Jonathan Crompton's hands.
UT also dropped passes, gave up sacks and fumbled exchanges in its first real test of the season, leaving plenty of blame to go around - and an offense in search of an identity.
"We had some dead energy today, and I don't know why on offense," Vols coach Lane Kiffin said. "You turn the ball over on offense and people start looking around and there's no rhythm to it. There's no rhythm and we're not bouncing the ball around and getting completions and the sticks moving.
"But we've had one game together. We've had one game and no punts and 63 points, so this was new for them with us."
For all the fresh faces on the sideline, the product on the field sparked some feelings of dej<0x00E0> vu.
Crompton completed just half of his 26 attempts with three interceptions, including one on the first play of the second half that the Bruins converted into a field goal and a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
A receiving corps that generated so much excitement in a flawless opener let a pair of important passes slip through its hands and missed at least one critical block. And the running backs needed some help with so many UCLA defenders crowding the line of scrimmage with the passing game stalled.
The ground attack never really got going, either, despite 89 yards from Montario Hardesty, and it was notably stuffed when it mattered most with UT on the doorstep of a comeback win in the closing minutes. But with four cracks at picking up 7 yards to go ahead late, the Vols only managed 6.
"Everybody has ups and downs, and unfortunately for us as a whole unit as an offense, we didn't have a good day," receiver Marsalis Teague said. "You know, we just tried to stick with what was working and the run game was obviously working for us. You have to stick with what's working in a game like this.
"We were very confident, we were moving the ball and we knew we were going to do this and going to do that, but honestly we were in the game at the end despite what happened. It's true what they say - the first three quarters, nothing mattered we were still in the game at the end."
That was almost entirely a product of a stellar defensive effort, and UT was almost good enough on offense to capitalize on it.
All that time spent churning for yards on the ground shortened the second half and limited their scoring chances, however. After the Vols missed their best one, Kiffin pointed the finger at himself in a locker room that reportedly was pointing them everywhere.
"I thought I didn't do a very good job today taking care of Jonathan," Kiffin said. "We tried to stay with the run game at times as you could see by the lopsided ratio of run to pass. I gave him a couple calls unfortunately that didn't put him in the best position.
"Obviously, that's embarrassing - 4-of-16 on third down and you're not going to win many games when you turn the ball over four times. … After all that, after all the bad things that happened today, we're still one yard away from putting it in to go ahead to win the game. Very discouraging for our second game together, but it's something they have to learn from."
For now, the Vols still have to learn who they are on offense.