Gameday recap: Tennessee 15, UCLA 19
One yard. Three feet. Doesn't sound like a lot.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel referred to Neyland Stadium as "hallowed ground'' Saturday. No doubt, that most hallowed of all was the three feet that separated Tennessee from the Bruins' goal line.
And, as it turned out, that separated UT from victory. UCLA escaped with a 19-15 upset that left a crowd of 102,239 and an ESPN audience glued to their seats.
The second game of the Lane Kiffin Era at UT could not have turned out more differently than the first.
The Vols won their opener by a mile a week ago. Saturday, they lost by the length of an arm.
The pyrotechnics of the 63-7 win over Western Kentucky were replaced by the heartburn of not being able to punch in the winning score in the final minutes against the stubborn Bruins.
"A very discouraging loss,'' Kiffin called it.
The Vols (1-1) aided UCLA's cause with four turnovers, spotted the Bruins (2-0) a 19-10 lead and generally were an offensive wreck for most of three quarters.
"Somehow,'' said Kiffin, "we got out of whack today.
"Everything we talked about, (not) letting the emotion of a big game get to us . . . They outplayed us. They out-executed us.
"Only 208 yards (of total offense). That's embarrassing.''
And still, as the clock ticked toward zero, the Vols found traction to muster what looked for all the world like a game-winning drive.
After a Daniel Lincoln field goal narrowed the deficit to 19-13, and then a UCLA punt, Tennessee took over at its 46 with 8:41 to play.
The Vols battled forward in small, hard-won increments. Montario Hardesty, who had scored UT's only touchdown on an 11-yard run in the first quarter, fought for 2 tough yards to convert a fourth-and-1 at the UCLA 31.
Two plays later Jonathan Crompton chased away the goblins of three previous interceptions and hit Quintin Hancock for 26 yards.
First and goal at the UCLA 7.
After a loss on first down, Hardesty fought to the 3 to leave it third-and-goal.
Bryce Brown got only a yard to the 2. That left one chance at redemption.
On fourth-and-goal, Hardesty got the call. He made the 1, but no more as UCLA's defense won the day's most decisive battle.
"We'd like to think when we have one yard to go to win the game we can do it,'' said Kiffin.
"That's the mentality we'd like to have. That's very discouraging to see.''
There was still drama packed into the final 1:59, after UCLA took over and huddled in its own end zone.
Tailback Johnathan Franklin fumbled, but managed to beat the grasping Tennessee hands and recover at the 1.
Then UT cornerback Dennis Rogan tackled UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince in the end zone for a safety.
That left it 19-15 with 1:41 to play and UCLA had to punt the ball back to Tennessee.
The Vols got possession at their 40 with 1:37 left, but no timeouts and no time to ride a grinding running game.
It was too much to overcome for a team out of whack.
Crompton was sacked once and threw incomplete three times to turn the ball back to the Bruins for the ceremonial taking of a knee.
"When they say this is hallowed ground, it's obvious,'' said Neuheisel. "It's really a privilege to play in an environment such as this and our kids took it as such.''
Maybe the Vols didn't. Something was missing.
Their only touchdown was a Bruin gift. Prince fumbled when sacked by Willie Bohannon in the first quarter. UT recovered at the UCLA and Hardesty scored on the first snap.
That made it 10-3, UT, but the second quarter was a disaster.
Another way to put it, a flashback to 2008.
A fumbled center snap gave UCLA a short field for a tying touchdown.
Prince, a redshirt freshman in his first road game, hit fullback Chane Moline for a 12-yard touchdown.
Crompton then threw two interceptions before halftime and a third on the first play of the third quarter.
The latter led Kai Forbath's second field goal and a 13-10 UCLA lead.
Forbath added two more field goals to make it 19-10 as the Vols continued to do nothing on offense.
When they finally started moving, it was too little too late.
"Credit to them,'' Kiffin said of UCLA. "They did a good job of traveling coast to coast and staying focused.''
The Bruins managed only 186 yards of offense and converted only three of 14 third downs.
But they limited turnovers - just the one - and kept the defensive heat on Crompton and the Vols.
Regrouping won't be fun. Next stop is The Swamp and the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators.