There are mountains, and then there is Mount Everest.
There are steaks, and then there is filet mignon.
There is Western Kentucky’s spread offense and then there is Florida’s.
Going into last weekend’s game against the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky, one of the questions surrounding the aura of Tennessee’s new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was how his “Tampa 2” scheme would handle college’s spread offense.
After all, they will see the Rolls Royce of spread offenses in a few weeks when they take on the Florida Gators in Gainesville.
Monte Kiffin is highly regarded as one of the great NFL defensive minds. His resume speaks for itself including having put together a unit in Tampa Bay that led a franchise from the laughing stock of the NFL, to the Super Bowl champions under his watch.
He contained Micheal Vick like a pinned animal, harassed Brett Favre like a stalker, and rounded up opposing running backs like a cattle call. In his 13 years as the godfather of Tampa Bay’s defense, his unit finished top 10 in points and yardage allowed 10 times.
But with all his success on the main stage, the college level poses a new challenge. The spread offense is something Kiffin doesn’t have a lot of experience coaching against, and critics will argue the “Tampa 2” does not match up well against it in personnel.
Western Kentucky was a taste. They are by no means a measuring rod, but at the same time it was apparent Kiffin had adjusted away from his comfortable scheme and ran with more nickel packages. The results were almost impeccable. Tennessee dominated Western, which they should have, and flashed a taste of what this defense can become.
What is interesting, however, is that this Volunteer defense may be even more impressive against UCLA than it was against Western Kentucky.
UCLA will be more talented, more physical, and better coached than the Hilltoppers were on offense, but that may not translate into more success than their peers from the Bluegrass state had.
UCLA runs a more conventional type of offense. They use fullbacks, tight ends, and line their quarterback under center more often. They are of a professional style of attack and will look to find mismatches more than they will look to smoke and mirrors to get defensive players out of position.
This plays right into Kiffin’s hands. There is nothing that UCLA head coach Rick Nueheisel or his offensive coordinator Norm Chow can throw at Monte Kiffin and the Tennessee defense that Kiffin hasn’t seen before.
What’s more important is that there isn’t anything they can throw at Tennessee that Kiffin won’t have an answer for. Expect to see more of the “Tampa 2” against the Bruins, utilizing multiple coverages from the same formations to confuse UCLA’s redshirt freshman Kevin Prince at quarterback. It won’t help Prince either that there are 108,000 fans who have a distaste for the color baby blue after last year.
UCLA is better than Western Kentucky. A lot better.
Just don’t expect to notice too much on Saturday.