Oregon vs. Tennessee: Will It Be Rocky Top or Rocky Start?
In all fairness to New Mexico, the Oregon Ducks are about to face their first challenge of the college football season.
And in all fairness to the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks, Tennessee is about to see something that their first tune-up game likely has not prepared them adequately for: a very tough Oregon football team.
In previewing this matchup, it is hard to draw any conclusions based on the shellackings both teams unleashed on their first week opponents. Both teams scored at least 50 points and held the opposing offenses to zero points. To say that both of those teams were overmatched would be like saying a squirrel is overmatched by a lion.
Both offenses had their way, and both defenses were incredible.
Both quarterbacks, in their first starts for their respective teams, were efficient, managed their offenses well, and were aided by solid receiving corps.
Both running squads could do no wrong, and both were punctuated somewhat by backs looking to show their worth.
Tennessee's Tauren Poole was eager to show that he was better than the backs that he was behind on the depth chart last year, and he certainly did not disappoint. David Oku also showed his stuff by dropping a 44-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Oregon's Kenjon Barner was also trying to prove he was overlooked behind fellow sophomore LaMichael James, who was serving a one-game suspension, and he was even more impressive than Poole.
So what exactly can we hope to see on the field given these lopsided first games? Well, certainly both defenses will give up more points, and both offenses will score fewer points. Make no mistake about it—these are arguably two of the best teams in undoubtedly two of the best conferences in college football.
Part of the key for the outcome of this game was not evident in the first game but will be clear in this one. Oregon is returning nearly its entire team, including the running back, wide receivers, and the entire offensive line.
Their defense also returns nearly entirely intact, leaving very few holes for Tennessee to take advantage of. Arguably, the defensive secondary could be exploited by a high-end quarterback, but Matt Simms is likely not good enough yet to do so.
On the flip side, Tennessee has a new starting running back and, more importantly, an entirely new offensive line. Their receivers are good enough to hold their own against Oregon's corners, and their tight end, Luke Stocker, could give most teams a lot of trouble. But Oregon's ability to put pressure on the quarterback, mixed with UT's inexperienced line, likely will take a lot of that advantage away from the Vols.
The Tennessee defense is similarly in a tough spot against a very good Oregon offense. While Tennessee returns stud defensive end Chris Walker, they will definitely miss the playmaking of safety Eric Berry, who left via the NFL draft.
Overall, this game will probably not be as close as many may expect. The only hope that Tennessee has is for the game to remain as close as possible for as long as possible to keep its home-field advantage in place and hope that is enough to rattle a young quarterback.
However, Darron Thomas' ability to make plays with his feet probably can help him overcome any jitters that he may have, and James will want to show his value following his one-game layoff.
The biggest problem for Tennessee is that its biggest strength on offense is its running game, and that plays into the teeth of the Oregon defense. Given the offensive potency of Oregon, Tennessee will likely be playing from behind, meaning that they will have to ditch the run and place all their hopes on Simms. This will allow the Ducks defense to pin their ears back and go after the quarterback and his inexperienced line.
Personally, I think this game is going to be a bloodbath. Oregon will be able to run at will, setting up Thomas to pick apart the Tennessee defense. The fact that Simms will be forced to take on a bigger role in this game and that Oregon will put pressure on him should mask any problem with the defensive secondary.
Furthermore, a good game here could help this unit gel and serve as a springboard for the rest of the year.
Overall, if the over/under on the spread of this game is set at 21, I would take the over. No offense to Tennessee, but Oregon is just too stacked for a rebuilding Volunteers squad.
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