on September 1, 2008 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

No. 18 Vols open against new-look Bruins

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Tennessee had a rocky stop in California last year. The Volunteers hope for a smoother visit this time.

Humbled 45-31 by California in the 2007 opener at Berkeley, No. 18 Tennessee kicks off on the West Coast again, facing coach Rick Neuheisel’s new-look UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on Monday night.

“Openers are always tough, but when you have a coaching switch as UCLA did, it makes it especially tough for us,” Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. “It will be a process of adjusting and learning throughout the game. Both teams will have to adjust as the game moves along.”

Vols defensive end Wes Brown likes the way the nationally televised game shapes up.

“It’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun,” he said. “Getting the national spotlight on Monday night football, two quality teams. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Neuheisel, the former UCLA quarterback who returned to Westwood last December to replace the fired Karl Dorrell, knows the Bruins face a big test against the Vols, last year’s SEC East Division champions. The Bruins slogged through a 6-7 season.

“We certainly understand the stature of their program and the challenge that lies ahead of us,” Neuheisel said. “We’re eager to find out where we are. We’re aware we have a formidable foe in an SEC mainstay like Tennessee.

“We know we’re going to have play our level best to be in the game, but that’s exciting. If you choose to look at it that way, I think you give yourself a better chance of actually pulling it off.”

Both teams have new offensive coordinators and new quarterbacks. Dave Clawson joined Fulmer’s Tennessee staff, and Neuheisel brought in Norm Chow to oversee the Bruins’ offense.

In an orderly transition, Jonathan Crompton has replaced Erik Ainge as the Vols’ quarterback. In a considerably more disruptive change, third-stringer Kevin Craft became the Bruins’ starter because Patrick Cowan is out for the year with a knee injury and Ben Olson will miss at least the first few games because of a foot injury.

“The unknown in this deal is how fast our offense responds to coach Chow and how fast their offense responds to their new coordinator,” Neuheisel said. “And the two new quarterbacks. That will be of interest.”

Craft, a juco transfer who started five games at San Diego State in 2006, got the job when Olson broke his right foot on Aug. 9.

“I was in a similar situation at San Diego State, where I was the third quarterback and three games into the season, I’m in there,” he said, recalling how injuries sidelined the Aztecs’ first two quarterbacks two years ago. “The first game I started was at BYU, so I know what to expect.”

Craft, a 6-foot-5, 205-pounder, was mostly solid in that game against BYU, going 20-of-32 for 216 yards with one interception. The Aztecs still lost 45-17.

He may face considerably tougher working conditions than Crompton does Monday night. The Vols have five starters back on an offensive line that allowed a nation-low four sacks last season. Craft will be operating behind a group of blockers that already was short on experience and has been thinned even more by injuries.

“Guys are stepping up, not just at quarterback,” Craft said. “A lot of linemen got hurt and guys stepped up. We’ve been moving guys around, and everybody’s been improving.”

Neuheisel, who had a combined 66-30 record coaching four years each at Colorado and Washington, believes the Bruins, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10 preseason poll, may have some added motivation.

“I think this group has a little chip on its shoulder, feels like it’s been cast off as also-rans,” the Bruins’ coach said. “I think they’re anxious to show that we’re more than that.”

The defense, led by tackle Brigham Harwell, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner, figures to be the Bruins’ strong suit. The offense will feature tailback Kahlil Bell, last year’s leading rusher with 795 yards.

The Vols will depend heavily on Arian Foster, who ran for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and Lucas Taylor, who had 73 receptions for 1,000 yards and five TDs.

Tennessee’s defense gets a boost with the return of safety Demetrice Morley, back after being academically ineligible for a year. Rico McCoy anchors a solid linebacking corps.

The Vols hold a 7-4-2 edge in the series, winning the most recent meeting 30-24 in Pasadena 11 years ago. Peyton Manning threw a pair of touchdown passes in the victory.


Associated Press Writer Beth Rucker in Knoxville contributed to this report.