Monday, August 11, 2008

2008 Preview: Tennessee

With the return of Rick Neuheisel to Westwood, all eyes will be on the Bruins this September as they take the field for the first time under his leadership. It's fitting then that the inaugural game will be broadcast on Monday Night Football, at the greatest football stadium in the country, against one of the nation's best teams. The Tennessee Volunteers enter the 2008 campaign ranked in the top-20 and they'll be a gigantic test for UCLA.

The Volunteers have been known for their strong running attack in years past and this year should see a return to that tradition. Arian Foster put together a 1,200 yard season last year and the Volunteers have another pair of talented backs behind him. Foster also has five returning starting lineman to run behind. The good news for the Bruins is that our run defense will be a real strength. The defensive line is solid and Price and Harwell will be a dangerous duo in the middle. It will likely be a grind it out battle in the trenches and the Bruin's depth will be sorely tested.

The rest of the Tennessee offense is a bit of a question mark. With a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, and a whole new offensive philosophy, it is hard to know what this team will look like in the fall. If the Bruins can put up a sturdy defense against the run then they might find some success by forcing Jonathan Crompton to throw. The Junior is coming back from off-season surgery and he has only played limited minutes in his career. He does have a very talented receiving corp at his disposal and our young secondary will have a baptism by fire on Labor Day.

Last season the Volunteers were average as a team defense but they have some talented players including one of the best safety tandems in the country in Eric Berry and Demetrice Morely. Without an establish offensive line, it's hard to see the Bruins putting up a strong passing attack against this team. It is likely that Chow will put the ball in the hands of his running backs to carry the day. Linebacker Rico McCoy will be one to watch as he is the top returning tackler on the team and a likely all SEC player. Also, defensive end Robert Ayers will challenge the young offensive line and look for the Volunteers to send a lot of blitzes against Craft to rattle him. I think UCLA can exploit some seems in the Volunteer defense with Moya and Paulsen getting involved in Chow's scheme.

I think this game will be closer than it might appear on paper. UCLA has always played well at home and you know the players and fans will be pumped for the start of the Neuhiesel era. At the end of the day, I think Tennessee's experience and depth will be a bit too much for the Bruins. I can see our offense struggling at times and Craft and the offensive line probably won't be able to put up many points. That means the game will hinge on how well the Bruin defense can stop the Volunteer offense. The X-factor in all of this is turnovers and the play of the two new quarterbacks. A big fumble or a timely interception could spell victory for one of these teams.

I'm calling this one for Tennessee. CP's prediction: UCLA defeat: 17 - 10.

(Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated)

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