In the first half of the game, yoiu would have been forgiven for thinking that Karl Dorrell was still in charge at UCLA — it was such an offensive abortion and an affront to football that Tennessee was playing down to the Bruins, who were put behind the eight-ball by their juco transfer QB Kevin Craft’s 4 first-half picks. (Rex Grossman thinks that’s a bad job of taking care of the football right there.) Essentially, defense ruled that first half — whether it be the Bruins’ punt block for a TD or Tennessee taking advantage of the picks.
But something funny happeened — Tennessee forgot they had a secondary that was much, much better on talent than the decimated UCLA receiver and running back corps, and Craft ran two touchdown drives complete with TD passes to a back-up tight end. (It only confirms that it’s not just the QBs at UCLA that appear to be made of papier-mache.) The dirty secret is that Jonathan Crompton often looked just as uncomfortable as Craft in the first half (bumping into Arian Foster doesn’t help matters), recovered to drive twice, with one being the FG that sent it to overtime. It’s hard to blame kicker Daniel Lincoln for missing the chip shot that gave UCLA the win, but we wouldn’t even have been there if Phil Fulmer had remembered to make some form of halftime adjustment.
I know it’s difficult to assume that Craft will not suck after watching four picks, but maybe after the first time he drives on you, it might be worth considering. (Honestly, it never should have gotten to overtime — DeWayne Walker should keep the game ball for trotting out a sick defensive line and telling them to attack.)
This makes for a perfect storyline for HIS COACHNESS, Sir Rick Neuheisel (TM EDSBS), who gets to manage with the spectre of lowered expectations and throw them off. Meanwhile, Fulmer and Co.’s California Adventure fails for the second straight year, this time to even more of a Pac-10 mediocrity (say what you will about Berkeley, but at least Tedford teams have above-average offensive tallent) that is supposed to be re-building after the Dorrell Era.
The Prodigal Son, the Golden Child, with a short leash from the administrators, but a very long one from the fans. Still, don’t expect these boys to crack top five in the conference.
Slick Rick will not be so lucky against Fresno State coach Pat Hill and his Mustache Riders…errr, Bulldogs, come the end of the month. They did the exact same thing in Jersey that UCLA did later in the evening — keep themselves in the game long enough to wear down a defense that ought to know better, and a defensive-minded coach in Greg Schiano, who certainly should know better and have a better game plan for an opener, particularly at home — although let’s say that I don’t think too many people were surprised by the outcome. Fresno State is a popular BCS crasher pick and Rutgers isn’t lighting up anyone’s “possible Big East champion” list.
The Bulldogs basically used an insane back half of the third quarter and the fourth to get the necessary 10+ point lead to make things uncomfortable for the Scarlet Knights, who then had to rely even more on the arm of Mike Teel and the catching skills of Tiquan Underwood — while good, was not good enough to keep Fresno from hacking away when they had the ball and took it to them on the ground, taking the battering ram approach with running back Ryan Mathews.
I advocate watching when Wisky invades the Central Valley in two weeks. Probably the most underrated upcoming game right now.