PASADENA, Calif. -- Following a disjointed effort that netted just 17 points from the offense in Monday night's 27-24 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl, Tennessee players and coaches finally sounded like they were on the same page.
It was obvious, they said, that the Vols had squandered too many chances to put away the Bruins, particularly as UT's opportunistic defense generated four first-half interceptions by UCLA starter Kevin Craft.
"I thought we had an opportunity to score points, and we left too many points on the board," first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "Whether it was the overtime period or having the ball on the 6-yard line. At times having the ball at the 20, 25 and taking sacks on third down that really pushed us out of field goal range. That turned very makeable field goals into longshots. I thought our guys played hard, and we'll learn from the film and obviously we need to get a lot better.
Added Gerald Jones, "That was easy to see, blatantly easy to see. It was all a matter of fact that we didn't capitalize on what we were supposed to do. It was obvious that we should have scored on many times, but we turned it over or didn't complete a pass. Didn't pick up a blitz."
After moving, oftentimes in big chunks of yardage, against the UCLA defense in the first half but netting just seven offensive points, Tennessee's offense got disrupted when an eight-play, 73-yard drive that seemed poised to culminate with a knockout touchdown quickly unraveled in the third quarter. An overpowering march that was 6 yards from ending in the Bruins' end zone with a 21-7 Vols lead instead died with Arian Foster's fumble at the 6-yard line. Tennessee had gains on the possession of 7, 9, 41 and 19 yards before the turnover.
"You don't want to lose ever," said Foster, a California native. "We shot ourselves in the foot so many times. I am not pointing any fingers. You guys saw the game. We just killed ourselves, myself included with the biggest play of the game. That's football. We have to learn from it."
The Bruins gained possession, as well as new life, and quickly turned the tables defensively on the Vols after averting a double-digit deficit. Tennessee's ensuing three possessions all lasted just three plays before Chad Cunningham was asked to punt on each series.
While the Bruins gained confidence as the game wore on, the Vols at times seemed to regress offensively. After their 80-yard scoring march in the second quarter evened the contest at 7-all, Tennessee's offense was shut out the next 40 minutes of game clock. Included in that span was a 21-minute stretch during which Crompton, who finished 19 of 42 for 189 yards with one pick and no touchdowns, did not complete a pass. He had two separate streaks of six or more incompletions in a row.
Tennessee rushed for 5.2 yards per carry, and the Vols got a combined 162 yards from Foster and Montario Hardesty on just 25 carries.
And though the Vols had expected heavy blitzes from the Bruins, it seemed to be a few new wrinkles that rattled the Tennessee offense.
"I don't think we picked up on blitzes as well as we should, and I think that got us out of sync a little bit," said Jones, a bright spot with 160 all-purpose yards. "They actually showed a couple of different defenses that we didn't expect and kind of caught us off guard. The blitzing really caught us off guard, which kept us on our heels.
"They did (blitz) a lot on film, but they just executed better than we did. I mean, the blitzes are what got us. We didn't give Crompton enough time to make a decision."
Though Crompton was officially sacked just once, the junior from Waynesville, N.C., repeatedly was knocked down or took hits just as he released the ball.
"It being the first game, they brought a lot of new things that we hadn't really seen on film," center Josh McNeil said. "For the most part, we knew what we were doing but we just didn't execute it all the time."
Improving that execution begins today on the flight back, said Clawson, who indicated he likely will sit next to Crompton and study the film of the loss during the cross-country trek home. Among the central points will be the Vols' ability to capitalize in the vertical passing game, something that Clawson felt had the potential to be the difference against the Bruins.
"We had to make one of those plays," said Clawson after UCLA dared the Vols offense with tight, man coverage on the outside. "We hit the one with (Josh) Briscoe down the sideline (for 41 yards) and we took some other shots and came up empty on them. With what they do and their safeties that tight and the coverage they were playing by kind of really doubling inside receivers, we had to win on the outside more often than we did. We had the close one to Austin Rogers, we had another shot with Brandon Warren down the seam that we just missed and a corner route that we just missed and another ball to Luke Stocker that we just missed.
"If you make one or two more of those plays, maybe the score comes out differently."
Though he made just one catch and had a short kickoff return to help set up Tennessee's game-tying field goal, Brandon Warren took pride in donning a Vols uniform for the first time.
"It felt great," Warren said of making his debut for the Vols. "Words can't explain it. It feels great to be at home representing my state and my family."
Ramone Johnson got some goal-line work at tight end in the Vols' jumbo set. ... Vols hoops assistants Steve Forbes and Jason Shay were among those on the UT sideline Monday night. ... Casey Clausen also ventured to the game. ... Foster moved into fourth-place on UT's career all-purpose yardage list with his 108 all-purpose yards. He now has 3,252.
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