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NEW IN BLUE : Toledo Must Figure Out How to Stop Manning in First Game

September 07, 1996|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — He wears No. 16, but the numerals might as well be twisted into concentric circles. Peyton Manning is a target, and tonight UCLA will fire every arrow at him it can find.

The Bruins have no choice. They have spent eight months building him up as college football's finest quarterback, and now, in their season opener, he will be firing back.

"I think he could play for some NFL teams right now, that's how good he is," Bob Toledo said before his first game as UCLA coach. "He's definitely a Heisman Trophy candidate. I don't know if we'll face any better quarterback over the course of the year."

But Manning, a junior at No. 2 Tennessee (1-0), has traded compliment for compliment. "UCLA has great athletes and a great secondary," he said. "I think [cornerback] Paul Guidry is a potential All-American."

Flattery hasn't worked. Now they'll try flattening him.

"It's no secret that we're going to come after him," Toledo said. "We'll try to disrupt his tempo, his timing, his rhythm and try to put pressure on him, because I've seen what happens when you try to rush three or four people and try to defend him. He picks you apart, so we're going take some chances."

They'll do it with a defense that defies description, even by those who line up in it.

"I've played the 3-4 my first year," linebacker Brian Willmer said. "Then I played the 4-3, now this. I don't know what you call it. Maybe the 3-3-5."

For now, call it untested, at least by UCLA. Tennessee may know it better than the Bruins.

In the usual method of college coaching inbreeding, Rocky Long, UCLA's defensive coordinator, got the system from Joe Lee Dunn, who used it at Arkansas last season: Tennessee 49, Razorbacks 21. Dunn also used it at Memphis State in 1991: Tennessee 52, Tigers 24.

Uh-oh.

"I've seen the film of the Arkansas game, and it was illuminating to me as to how successful [the Volunteers] were attacking it," Long said. "They attacked it as well as anyone I've seen attack it."

The reason last season was Manning, who passed for 384 yards and four touchdowns against Arkansas on his best day as a collegian. Twice Arkansas had a 10-point lead, but Manning passed Tennessee into a 35-7 run that sent the Hogs to slaughter.

Now it's UCLA's turn, and Long explains the situation in math terms.

"The very best possibility is, you rush four guys, whoever the four are, and get heat on him so you can play a variety of coverages," Long said. "And if you can't get to him with four, you send five. And if you can't with five, you send six. And if you can't with six, you send seven and pretty soon you're playing straight man coverage, which in my opinion is playing into his hand."

Long is a realist.

"There's no way in my mind that we're going to stone him or stop him or prevent him from being the great player that he is," Long said. "But if we can keep him from getting into a rhythm, we might be able to keep it close enough to give us a chance."

And if there is a chance? With apologies to Dickens, Tennessee's Neyland Stadium tonight will be something of an old curiosity shop, with more than 106,000 customers.

"I'm curious to see how our team is going to adjust to that game climate," UCLA quarterback Chad McNown said.

And Long: "I'm not scared, but I'm unsure what's going to happen. I'm very curious."

Toledo too.

"I'm curious to see how our football team will react to a difficult situation," he said. "I'm also looking forward to seeing how our staff will react to a difficult situation."

The curiosity comes from a new coaching staff, a lot of new players, new offense, new defense, even new uniforms. The only thing that is known is that the Bruins are tired of looking at each other. Tennessee's orange will be a welcome respite from days of blue and white practice jerseys colliding at Spaulding Field.

"I've been looking forward to it for a long time, since the winter, when we were running at 6:45 in the morning, breaking it down for Tennessee," Willmer said. "Now we're finally seeing the light."

More like a spotlight, and in it Peyton Manning, possibly in a thundershower. He'll be the one 106,000-plus will see in No. 16, and 11 Bruins will see wearing a target.

Bruin Notes

Tropical Storm Fran did her worst east of Knoxville, Tenn., which was sunny Friday. Thundershowers are possible for tonight's game. . . . Tennessee tailback Jay Graham's streak of 100-yard rushing games was stopped last week by Nevada Las Vegas, but more properly by Tennessee Coach Phil Fullmer, who let everybody play, 11 Volunteers running the ball. Graham carried six times for 34 yards in the 62-3 victory and said, "I don't think I ran well. I think I could run a whole lot better." . . . The expected 106,000 would be a record crowd to watch a UCLA football game. The existing record is 105,464 for UCLA-Ohio State in the 1976 Rose Bowl. That was the last game in which UCLA was not coached by Terry Donahue.

*

UCLA at TENNESSEE

* Site: Knoxville, Tenn.

* Time: 5 p.m.

* TV: Channel 2

* Radio: XTRA (690)

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