It's been a lot of fun talking about tomorrow's game the whole week. I am pretty sure I am not the only who have enjoyed going back and forth with the Tennessee fans here on BN talking about different aspects of tomorrow night's matchup. I think the respectful and friendly banter we have had here is lot more fun and refreshing than the state SEC-Pac-10 smack talk we often see gets littered through the message boards and blogs all over the internets (and I will be honest when BN launched, I myself got sucked into it before finding it was getting boring and stale).
Anyway I will tip my hat to the passion of the Tennessee fans for their football program. That's the kind of stuff that makes college football (and basketball) so special and so much more compelling than its professional counterparts. However, I have got to say there is one aspect of the game, going into tomorrow night that could be working in UCLA;s favor. Yeah, I have already wrote this week how I just don't see UCLA pulling out a victory given our recent record and our roster full of freshmen and first time starters on offense. I don't blame the Tennessee fans who think it's reasonable to expect 10 point win. If I were them I'd be feeling the same way too (inside). However, here is the thing, these (reasonable) expectations on the part of Tennessee fans will put enormous squarely on the shoulders of Lane Kiffin and his entire football team. Hooper from RockyTopTalk writes "why UCLA is the game that matters" for Lane's Volunteers (emphasis added):
UCLA exposed Tennessee last year, if only by virtue of being the first team with the opportunity to shish Clawbob the offense. This is now the second year under Neuheisel for the Bruins, and the second year is usually the breakout year for a team, which means they theoretically have a legitimate shot at repeating last year's heartbreak. UCLA is also a westerly nonconference opponent, and a big name at that. It's always been a point of UT pride to play (and win) marquee nonconference games, and a loss here would run the record to 1-3 against the PAC-10 in four years, with the last three being losses. There is a lot riding on UCLA specifically: revenge, conference pride, and a realistic measuring stick of our new team.
But a loss to UCLA would also bring shades of Tennessee's greatest disappointment: losing early and being out of contention. Normally, this honor has belonged to the Florida Gators, where the third game loss knocks Tennessee down the polls and causes them to trail in the standings, but UCLA can bump the heartbreak up a week, with the added bonus of removing all hope leading into Florida week. We would be looking forward to a two-week losing streak to a California team and that team, with only the pelt of the newest 1-A team in hand.
A win against UCLA, however, would reverse the equation. While the Florida loss is still the most likely scenario, beating UCLA would undoubtedly show Tennessee to be improved from last year (for while it's a home game, UCLA is a better team this year than last). A solid win would place the trend squarely on the path toward relevance again, and a Florida loss would become nothing more than a bump in the road while we wait for the recruiting chimera to rebuild the program.
So in short, beating UCLA gives Lane Kiffin all the time he'll need to prove his worth, while a loss would re-open old wounds and bring back all the doubt and misery of seasons past.
And I can't agree with hooper any more. This is a MUST WIN game for Lane and the Volunteers. There is no way around it. So the pressure is going to be intense on them early on to come out and take a big lead. If they don't, that pressure is only going to get more severe and creep all over into the zeitgesit of Volunteer nation.
On other hand for our Bruins, all we are looking at this point is to come out and fight. If they come out and fight, minimize their mistakes in all aspects of the game, and can put together some scoring drives early on, keeping the defense fresh and hungry, we are only going to get more confidence. So in terms of a psychological mindset, Bruins couldn't be in a better shape heading into tomorrow's game. More after the jump.
Again the key for the Bruins will be to soak in the crazy atmosphere, but remain as calm as possible and take it all in stride:
The main goal for UCLA, though, will be to soak in the Neyland Stadium atmosphere for roughly one play. One play is all head coach Rick Neuheisel will afford his players the luxury of being overwhelmed. Any longer, and the Volunteers will pounce.
"I think it will be a factor until the game starts," sophomore offensive lineman Jeff Baca said. "Once we get that first play and everybody's focused, concentrated, locked in, we'll be ready to go. I don't think the crowd will be a factor then."
Oh, but it will.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince will surely be nervous. Redshirt freshman running back Johnathan Franklin will certainly be jittery. Sophomore wide receiver Taylor Embree wants them to be.
"If you're not pumped up to play a game like this, you don't have a pulse," Embree said. "There's such thing as being too overhyped, though. You've got to be hyped up, but at the same time remain calm."
It sounds easy but we will see if they can get it done. As I said above though, the pressure is going to be on their counterparts to go for the kill early. They are going to come out fired up and do whatever it takes to strike first and then build on it. In contrast, we have to weather the initial storm , stay focused, and do what we can to execute the game plan.
No doubt the Volunteers will be the heavy favorites because of their home turf. However, if these teams were matchuped in a neutral field, in terms of over all talent, they would be about even (perhaps Tennessee with a slight edge in experience). I am sure the coaches will hammer those facts into the mindset of our team. Plus given the reports we got out of practices this year, it seemed that our young guys are fearless with a little bit of nasty streak.
At the end of the day, this is all supposed to be fun. Here is CRN yesterday:
"I want it to be fun," Neuheisel said. "I think noise is exciting. It means people have passion and they are there to see you."
It should be fun for our team because the pressure is on the other side. The pressure is on Kiffin(s) and the Volunteers to make a statement validating their new regime. If they can't make that statement early in that game, the pressure is only going to build throughout the evening.
I still don't think we will have enough to pull out a victory tomorrow. I am pretty much in agreement with bobo_the_vol who wrote earlier this week, ou can’t fill a cupboard as empty as UCLA’s was when Neuheisel arrived in just one or two shopping trips." We have had enough discussions on that specific point during last few years on BN. So no doubt we are going to be the underdogs tomorrow night taking on a traditional SEC powerhouse infront of the whole nation. So might as well enjoy it, play with passion and all out aggression (with poise and discipline).
Let's have some fun. We got nothing to lose because the pressure is on them.