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It's a Start

UCLA: Toledo's team puts up a good effort in first game, but No. 2 Tennessee and Manning have the answers, 35-20.

September 08, 1996|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — UCLA tried a double reverse, a double-reverse pass and a reverse on a kickoff, but the Bruins couldn't get a reversal of fortune Saturday night.

They dug a hole for themselves at Neyland Stadium, fell in and couldn't climb out in a 35-20 loss to No. 2 Tennessee in their season-opener, before 106,297.

The Volunteers scored on an 86-yard punt return by Terry Fair, a 53-yard pass to Joey Kent and a one-yard run for a touchdown by Peyton Manning with 15 seconds to play in the first half that followed a 48-yard kickoff return by Mark Levine and sent UCLA off the field with a 21-10 deficit.

Each play was two steps back that followed a Bruin step up to within a touchdown of the Volunteers.

UCLA's Skip Hicks fumbled on Tennessee's 48-yard line one play after the Bruins recovered a Volunteer fumble, and Ryan Roques fumbled again on Tennessee's 12 on a first-down play.

"We beat ourselves," said Bruin safety Abdul McCullough, who intercepted a Manning pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown that cut Tennessee's lead to 14-10, a manageable halftime margin if the UCLA kick-coverage team had held up.

It didn't.

Neither did the punt-coverage team.

"They made the big plays," said Bob Toledo, disappointed but not distraught in his first game as UCLA's coach. "We worked hard on special teams, but the long kickoff return hurt and [Chris] Sailer outpunted his coverage. Special teams are a big part of the game and tonight it got us. We have a lot of young people on our special teams."

The Bruins found some first-half success against Manning, the Volunteer Heisman Trophy hopeful, but also had a second-quarter defensive breakdown in which he hooked up with Marcus Nash on a 69-yard reception, 67 of which came after the catch. On the next play, Manning threw to Eric Lane for a touchdown that gave the Volunteers a 14-3 lead and set the tone for the night.

By that time, Jeff Ruckman and Damon Smith had sacked Manning, causing a fumble, which was recovered by Brian Willmer. After the Manning-Nash hookup, Weldon Forde was wrapped around Manning when he threw the interception that McCullough returned for a touchdown to make it 14-10.

"We started off on a good note with some completions to Marcus Nash, but we made some early mistakes," said Manning, who completed 16 of 28 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for two.

"It wasn't a typical night," Manning said. "But this wasn't a typical team."

It was a team well aware of his capability and determined to make his night as miserable as possible.

"We tried to attack Peyton Manning, to give him different looks and blitzes," Toledo said. "I think we did too. Sometimes he thought we were blitzing, and we were back in a zone defense."

But in the end, Manning and UCLA's self-destructive tendencies were the Bruins' undoing.

After closing to within 14-10 on McCullough's return, the Bruins gave up Levine's 48-yard kickoff return that set up Manning's sneak for a 21-10 halftime lead.

Bjorn Merten's 26-yard field goal, his second of the game--the other was from 50--cut it to 21-13, but Fair's put return made it a two-touchdown game again.

Cade McNown found Danny Farmer open for an 88-yard touchdown to put UCLA within 28-20 with 9:41 to play, but Manning hit Kent on a play that left Bruin cornerback Paul Guidry naked in the secondary and put the Bruins out of business for good.

It was a matter of opinion which play hurt worst.

The punt return was a killer, but the Bruins came back when McNown scrambled and found Farmer all alone in the Tennessee secondary.

Again, though, it was a case of close, but not close enough. Kent made sure on the touchdown reception from Manning.

"It was third and two and I told Paul Guidry that they might hook up with Joey Kent," Toledo said. "I told him to be aware of the hitch-and-go."

So Kent, who had caught three other passes on the six-play drive, ran out against Guidry and hesitated. Manning pumped. Guidry went for the fake and Kent took off. He was open from Knoxville to Dollywood when the ball arrived.

"All I could do was hope he overthrew it," Guidry said. "There was nothing else I could do."

From there, it was time to empty the bench, with the Bruins subbing quarterback Steve Buck for their final series. He completed two of six passes for 11 yards after McNown had a 16-for-24 night for 230 yards.

Toledo labeled it a night in a classroom.

"This is a game we can learn a lot from," he said. "We've got to coach them to get better in the special teams area. Obviously I'd like to have a different result, but our kids respect what we are trying to do. I feel good about our progress."

But in the end, every progressive step was followed by a couple to the rear for the Bruins, who figure to get well next Saturday in their home opener against Northeast Louisiana.

"I'm not happy about losing, but I'm pumped because this isn't the last game of the season," McNown said. "It's only the first, and we play next week and there were some good things tonight. We stopped ourselves, but we know we can fix that."

* ALLAN MALAMUD: C6

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