Everything the Tennessee Vols do is predicated on one thing: speed.
From running between practice sessions to sprinting to the other side of the field at the end of quarters, coach Butch Jones doesn't tolerate slow. That's because he wants his well-conditioned Vols to play at a breakneck tempo and wear down opponents.
That won't work against Oregon. And that's OK.
Jones proved during last Saturday's 52-20 win over Western Kentucky that he isn't too proud to adjust. After a first half in which the Hilltoppers held the ball more than 20 minutes, Jones said during Monday's press conference that he pumped the offensive brakes in the second half to give his defense a rest.
With the Vols (2-0) traveling to Eugene to take on the No. 2-ranked Ducks on Saturday, Jones doesn't want to change what UT does best. But he said he will if the game dictates it.
It's always easier to slow down than it is to speed up, but we're going to play our brand of football. We'll mix our tempos up, but we're going to do whatever it takes to win the football game, and it's going to take a phenomenal effort.
The Vols want to keep Oregon's offense on the sideline as much as possible. Getting into a shootout isn't the smartest mode of attack against a team Sportsbook.com has favored by 28.5 points.
Very few teams can hang with that Oregon brand of offense. Just ask the Washington Redskins, who became former Ducks and new Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly's latest victim on Monday night. In his first game since leaving Eugene for the NFL, Kelly schooled Washington before Mike Shanahan knew what hit him.
According to a tweet by ESPN Stats & Info:
The Eagles ran 53 plays in the first half. That's more than the Panthers ran in Sunday's GAME— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 10, 2013
How is a Tennessee defense that is young, not incredibly deep and facing its first road test going to react when Kelly's disciple Mark Helfrich employs the same formula with a stable of All-Americans?
The Ducks are averaging 62.5 points, 664.5 yards and 70 plays per game. Even more impressively, they are averaging a ludicrous 9.5 yards per offensive play.
They can embarrass you in a hurry. Just ask Virginia, which looked silly in allowing the Ducks to score 59 in Charlottesville last Saturday. Now, a UT defense that has been terrific at takeaways—tied for No. 1 in the nation with nine—must keep that opportunistic start going to have a shot at the upset.
The Vols have to find ways to collapse the run lanes and take away what Jones called the "pace and space" combination for Oregon. Too many times against WKU, UT allowed running backs to break into the second level, a deadly mistake against the Ducks.
Jones said in his Monday press conference that UT missed five tackles against the Hilltoppers. Any failed wrap-ups against a team as elusive as the Ducks could mean six points. While sure tackling is a big deal every week, Jones said it is "critical" against Oregon.
What's the best way for Tennessee to slow Oregon?
So is rest and conditioning. Sometimes, teams can't even sub in reserves because the Ducks operate at such a frenetic pace. Even with the speed, Jones said Oregon isn't the soft team folks think it is.
"They're not a finesse football team," Jones said. "They're a physical football team. They have depth, and it's probably the most complete Oregon football team I've seen in a number of years."
UT quarterback Justin Worley knows he can't do anything about Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas and Co., but he can take better care of his own unit. That means the Vols need to be efficient offensively, methodically moving the chains and picking up first downs to give their defense longer breaks.
We can only control what we can control on the offensive side, so we've just got to go out and maintain our focus and worry about what we can control and not get caught up in saying `We need to score 50 this game.' It's 'We need to go out and score this drive.' That's it.
We won't see UT milk the clock on Saturday, but Jones isn't going to be able to keep the pressure turned up, either. If the Vols try to do that, playing a points-matching game rarely works well against Oregon.
All quotes were transcribed from press conference videos posted on UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted.