The last time Tennessee played Oregon, the Ducks turned Neyland Stadium into their own quack track, scoring 45 consecutive points on their way to a 48-13 win in 2010.
Since then, Oregon has played for a national championship and keeps recycling speed-burning superstars on its way to a continued run of national relevance. Former coach Chip Kelly surged to a head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles, giving way to offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
Tennessee, on the other hand, spiraled under former coach Derek Dooley before he was fired in favor of Butch Jones.
Now, the 2-0 Vols make a trip to Autzen Stadium, hoping to, somehow, figure out a way to slow down the No. 2-ranked Ducks. The names have changed for Oregon—De'Anthony Thomas instead of LaMichael James, Marcus Mariota instead of Darron Thomas and Thomas Tyner instead of Kenjon Barner. But the fact remains: Oregon is on a different speed level.
Here's all you need to know about this weekend's out-of-conference showdown.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Place: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
Radio: Vol Network, Oregon IMG Sports Network, Sirius Ch. 85,
Spread: Oregon by anywhere from 27.5 to 28.5 points, according to various Vegas books. It opened at 21.5.
*All quotes were transcribed from videos posted on UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted.
It's no secret that the Vols were atrocious playing in space during a historically inept 2012. While new coordinator John Jancek's simplified scheme has led to faster play, UT still gives up too many yards.
If Oregon gets proper placement, touchdowns follow. According to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required), defensive end Jacques Smith is expected to return from his preseason injury, and though he'll be amped up, he's got to keep containment, or it'll be a long day.
Collapsing run lanes is vital to UT's hopes. It cannot let Oregon feast on huge plays. Said Butch Jones at his weekly press conference Monday:
They're going to make their big plays. That's a function of what they do. But it's not letting one big play...have a snowball effect. That's part of that mental conditioning. We have to force them and make them drive the football on us, and that's very challenging.
Chew Up Yardage and Clock
Quarterback Justin Worley's poor pass placement and the offensive line's inconsistency must be put in the past. The Vols' best defense is piling up first downs and touchdowns on offense, while De'Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota get frustrated on the sideline.
If there's an advantage for the Vols, it's in the trenches. It's time for that vaunted offensive line to prove it can perform at an elite level in an elite game.
Thanks to seven interceptions from a very active secondary, UT is tops in the nation with nine takeaways. That's a wild card for the Vols entering this game. If UT can create havoc and utilize extra possessions, the Vols have a shot.
Exploit Tennessee's Lack of Front-Seven Speed
An excerpt from an article written by The Oregonian's Andrew Greif following Saturday's 59-10 thumping of Virginia should make every Vols fan cringe.
...head coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost had noticed the fatal flaw in Virginia's defense was its lack of perimeter speed. And if you're trying to send a message, or score on the edge, there are few candidates in all of college football better suited for the job than (De'Anthony) Thomas.
The Vols are much-improved from a season ago, but they aren't overly fast. If Jacques Smith and Curt Maggitt could return from their injuries, it'll go a long way toward addressing that deficiency. But Oregon's skill players are on another level. They must get them in space.
Load Up the Box
With Justin Worley's accuracy struggles, Oregon's defense must make Tennessee one-dimensional. That dimension should be banking on the belief that Worley can't beat them with his arm.
The Vols have a nice one-two punch at running back with Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane, but with Worley plodding along and a young group of receivers going on its first road trip, the Ducks have a decisive advantage.
Flourish in the Flats
The lid on UT's defense is strong with Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil at safety. But there's no reason why Oregon needs to try to burn the Vols deep, anyway.
All-SEC linebacker A.J. Johnson is a liability in pass coverage, and though Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer haven't been bad, the Vols are prone to lose keys in the flats, leading to wide-open running backs or tight ends. WKU had a lot of success throwing underneath Tennessee's zone, and Oregon should exploit the same.
The junior All-SEC linebacker will be one of the best defenders in the league this year, but Oregon's is a different brand of football than the SEC's. This is the type of game where he has historically struggled.
At 6'2" 245 pounds, Johnson isn't built for chasing down track stars. He's also not strong in pass coverage. None of that will matter when it's game time. The Vols have to have Johnson on the field, and he has to thrive for them to win.
Tennessee's Offensive Line
It's a group that starts five potential NFL players, and they have a decisive size and strength advantage on Oregon's defensive front. The Vols want to control the tempo and churn out first downs.
After carving their niche pass-blocking, this group has been yearning to prove to the world that it's a top-shelf, run-blocking line as well. This is the national stage to show it.
The nation's top schools recruited Smith out of high school, and he has never lived up to his lofty prospect status.
Now, his senior season is getting a late start after he fractured a thumb in camp. Smith has the ability to be a difference-maker rushing the passer and claims he's more comfortable than ever in John Jancek's 4-3 scheme. His debut bears watching closely.
When Snoop Dogg (or is it Snoop Lion, now?) knows who you are and laments that his beloved USC Trojans should have never let "The Black Momba" get away, via the The Oregonian, you know you've arrived.
There isn't a more explosive running back in the nation than Thomas, who is averaging 8.7 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns, thus far, this season. Quite simply put, if you're going to win, you've got to slow down Thomas. His backfield mate, Thomas Tyner, is pretty impressive as well.
After an amazing redshirt freshman season, the dual-threat quarterback has struggled with his accuracy somewhat in the first two games.
According to Jason Quick of The Oregonian, Mariota has started just 26 of 49 this season. Still, the 6'3", 214-pound signal-caller has NFL scouts drooling with his ability to beat teams running or throwing, and he is the player who makes Oregon's speed machine flow fluidly. UT cannot let him get loose.
CBS Sports rates Ekpre-Olomu as the nation's 26th-ranked, draft-eligible NFL prospect and the No. 3 cornerback. He is coming off a first-team All-Pac 12 season where he was also a third-team All-American, and Justin Worley had better know where he is every time he drops back to pass.
At 5'10", 190, Ekpre-Olomu isn't the biggest DB, but he plays very physical for his size. According to his Oregon bio, he defended 20 passes and forced six fumbles last year and is second on the team in tackles this year.
Tennessee senior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James has heard all about Oregon this week, and he said he's impressed. But after Tuesday's practice, he talked about what he thinks of the Ducks buzz:
It doesn't affect us at all. We're going to go out there and play our game, play to a Tennessee standard, play Tennessee tough, and everything's going to take care of itself. All we know is we're the only people that think we're going to win, the people in that locker room and the people in that coaching room. That's all we need.
Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly could come off as abrasive at times, but new coach Mark Helfrich has been nothing but complimentary of Tennessee's tradition all week.
"Tennessee football is Tennessee football," he said, according to The Oregonian's Andrew Greif.
ESPN college football analyst Brad Edwards told GoVolsXtra, per Evan Woodbery, he doesn't think the Vols have the defensive firepower to hang with the Ducks.
If you don’t have the type of defense to hold them under 20—and I don’t think Tennessee has that type of defense quite yet—you’re going to have score a lot of points to beat them. I’m just not sure Tennessee has the guys to be able to do that.
They run a lot of the same schemes as our offense, just obviously a slower tempo and different body types. But they use a zone run game. It will be a big test for our defense.
Oregon 45, Tennessee 24
Tennessee has looked like a much-improved, better-coached football team in the early season than they ever were under Derek Dooley.
But the harsh truth is, there's just too much speed for the Vols to cope with here.
I fully expect Oregon to be one of the two teams left standing in the BCS National Championship Game at the end of the year, and while the Vols will keep it more respectable than the oddsmakers think, the Ducks will run away with it in the second half.
Butch Jones is building this Tennessee program the right way, but it's just now being rebuilt. There just isn't enough depth and talent to keep it close for four quarters against the most explosive team in the nation.