Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson UT defensive back Art Evans makes his way to the locker-room after losing 19-15 to UCLA.
KNOXVILLE -- The Tennessee offense couldn't cross UCLA's goal line with three tries from the 3-yard line.
Moments later, the Volunteers couldn't travel 60 yards in 97 seconds to erase a 19-15 deficit, and that was the final score.
"We just needed a couple of big plays," UT freshman wide receiver Marsalis Teague said. "Just a couple of plays would have been the difference."
Just one would have helped.
UCLA officially stopped UT four times during the Vols' last stand, but an offside penalty gave the Vols a fifth chance.
The Bruins weren't surprised with the result, given UT's passing game problems.
"I'm not saying anything bad about their quarterback," UCLA middle linebacker Reggie Carter said. "He's just not the best passer."
UT senior Jonathan Crompton reverted to his 2008 form Saturday, completing 13 of 26 passes for 93 yards and three interceptions -- and only a late offside penalty wiped a fourth off his record.
Crompton also was charged with a lost fumble following a mishandled exchange that set up UCLA's lone touchdown drive, but Vols coach Lane Kiffin blamed senior center Cody Sullins for a premature snap.
Kiffin and his players steadfastly backed Crompton after the game. Publicly, they pointed their fingers inward.
Kiffin said he never seriously considered replacing Crompton with junior Nick Stephens.
"I thought I didn't do a very good job today of taking care of Jonathan," Kiffin said. "It's my fault for playing some players who haven't practiced enough because of injuries and hoping they would go out there and make plays. That really makes Jonathan suffer.
"We didn't do very many good things around (Crompton)."
The Bruins routinely stacked the box, even in clear passing situations.
Carter said he fully expected the Vols to stay with their ground game, even with UCLA nursing a two-score advantage in the fourth quarter.
"That's what they do," Carter said. "They're a run team."
Not that the run game was much more effective. The Vols finished with just 115 net yards on 44 rushing attempts.
They controlled the ball for nearly 15 minutes in a 17-minute stretch late in the game, but two possessions that accumulated 122 yards on 30 plays resulted in just three points.
The big blow came in the final three minutes, when the Vols were stuffed on three runs from the Bruins' 3-yard line. UCLA took back the ball with 1:59 left after harnessing UT senior tailback Montario Hardesty at the 1 on fourth-and-goal.
"We always expect to score in that situation," Crompton said. "You have to expect to score in that situation. We just didn't finish."
And the Bruins did.
"I'm very, very pleased with the resiliency of our football team," second-year UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "There were some precarious times. We had some adversity. Different things kept happening, but rather than wallow in pity, we kept par.
"That's what we try to instill in our team, and I'm very pleased to see it demonstrated it in such a way."
Kiffin didn't claim to see similar signs.
"Somehow, we got out of whack in everything that we talked about in letting the emotions of a big game get to us," Kiffin said. "We got out of character and did things that we don't expect to do.
"(UCLA) did a good job. On a sack in the second half, they had a three-man rush, so we got outplayed today. Credit to them. They did a great job traveling coast to coast and ... not turning the ball over."
The Bruins were far from flawless offensively. They fumbled six times but lost only one.
Vols junior All-America safety Eric Berry sat down at the postgame interview podium and refused to blame his offensive teammates. He bemoaned UT's defense for giving up "too many third-down conversions," despite UCLA converting just three times in 14 chances.
"We each just have to take a look at ourselves and see if we did everything we could do to help our team win today," said Berry, who led the Vols with 10 tackles. "We might do some soul-searching ourselves.
"We don't need to do any finger-pointing. We're not going to do any finger-pointing. I'm not going to allow it."
Asked what he could have done better Saturday, Crompton promptly replied, "That's self-explanatory."
Crompton said he wasn't surprised by UCLA's defensive sets but some of this throws were simply a "half-second late."
"And the rest is history," he added.
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