Even with offensive guru Norm Chow in the press box, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel turned to his defense with the game on the line.
It was the right call.
UCLA stopped Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty on fourth-and-2 in the closing minutes, and the Bruins made it two in a row against the Volunteers with a 19-15 victory Saturday in Knoxville.
“We will be a better offense,” Neuheisel said. “But given the way our offense was playing, I thought it was better to put it in (the defense’s) hands.”
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Trailing by 6, the Vols (1-1) had a chance to take the lead after driving 52 yards, but UCLA (2-0) held fast and Lane Kiffin lost for the first time as Tennessee coach.
The Vols’ defense, led by Monte Kiffin, had been battering the Bruins’ offense for much of the day. UCLA had only 186 yards of offense compared to Tennessee’s 208. The Bruins had four fewer first downs, held the ball for three fewer minutes and had 60 more yards in penalties.
Tennessee reached UCLA’s Kevin Prince many times, but usually after he released the ball. After Hardesty was stopped, Tennessee got a safety when Dennis Rogan sacked Prince, giving him a bloody mouth.
An inept Jonathan Crompton couldn’t do anything with the last-minute opportunity after getting the ball back, taking a sack and throwing three incomplete passes.
Lane Kiffin said he saw a few of his players trying to point fingers in the locker room after the game.
“I told them that isn’t what we are. That isn’t what a championship mentality is. A little bit of finger pointing came out and we have to teach them,” he said. “You either win or you lose, and everybody on that team lost today.”
For the Bruins, the win in Neyland Stadium in front of 102,239 fans was a big step toward recovering from last year’s 4-8 finish.
“We’re hungry,” safety Rahim Moore said. “We are trying to come out every day and every weekend to prove to the world that UCLA is who UCLA is.”
For the Vols, it means a lot of work this week as they prepare for a trip to Florida — especially on Crompton, who unraveled after throwing five touchdown passes in the season opener against Western Kentucky.
On the first play after halftime, he threw his third interception of the day and second to Moore, who has five for the season. Kai Forbath kicked a 39-yard field goal four plays later for a 13-10 lead.
“I just read the quarterback,” Moore said. “I knew that Crompton had some skills, but I also knew that he could throw a pick because any quarterback can. I was just sitting back and reading the quarterback.”
Kiffin, who has pledged not to shuffle quarterbacks during games, stuck with Crompton. Tennessee went three-and-out on its next two drives, and Forbath answered with field goals of 31 and 47 yards to give UCLA a 19-10 lead with 2:39 in the third quarter.
Forbath, who beat Tennessee with an overtime field goal in California last season, made four field goals in the rematch.
Prince finished 11-for-23 for 101 yards and the one touchdown. Johnathan Franklin had 80 yards rushing.
At Wake Forest 24, Stanford 17: Riley Skinner scored on a 1-yard keeper with 2 seconds remaining and the Demon Deacons (1-1) rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat the Cardinal (1-1).
Skinner finished 18 of 26 for 187 yards with a touchdown pass for the Demon Deacons. His 44-yard pass to third-stringer Lovell Jackson with less than a minute left set up his winning score.