The Oregon Ducks face a tough opponent this weekend in SEC power Tennessee. The young Ducks look to improve their record after a first week trouncing of New Mexico. Oregon travels to Tennessee for the first time in school history. For the No. 7 Ducks to come out with a win, here are five things for every fan to look for.
If one large question still looms for the Oregon Ducks, it’s how will their young quarterback perform under pressure. In just his second career start, Darron Thomas will face a Tennessee team with more talent, speed, and athleticism then any team he’s seen before. Thomas’ composure not only in the pocket, but also as the leader of this offense will go a long way to Oregon’s success.
As Thomas gets more flustered, so does the Ducks offense. I look to how Thomas reacts to the early tempo to set a tone for the rest of the game. Oregon coach Chip Kelly has also said he trusts Thomas enough to give him the option to audible at the line.
A sophomore quarterback changing plays against a Rocky Top crowd could be the biggest battle Thomas sees all day. Look to see if Thomas and Oregon can quiet the crowd early with some big plays. An early lead should calm any nerves in the QB’s system.
As if over 350 yards rushing last week wasn’t enough, Oregon gets LaMichael James back from suspension this week. James, who set an Oregon freshman rushing record last year, starts his season off against a tough Volunteer rushing defense. Some pressure may be taken off James this week thanks to his sidekick’s performance in last week’s game.
Barner’s 210 yards and five total touchdowns in only a half, are enough to make any defensive coordinator cringe.
Tennessee’s scouting report no doubt says stop the run. Oregon will look to give the Volunteers the choice to stop just one of their star running backs. Stop James, and Kenjon Barner comes in. Stop Barner and the same can be said for James. Look for Oregon to come out early with both James and Barner in the backfield running misdirection and the Ducks’ classic triple option offense.
Oregon may have lots of yellow in their uniforms today, but yellow on the field is one thing the Ducks surely don’t want to see. There is no question that on paper Oregon is better on offense, defense, and special teams. However, a plethora of flags on the Ducks can destroy any “on paper” advantage Oregon has.
Three major penalties I would watch for are pass interference, holding, and false starts.
Oregon and Tennessee don’t pass often, but when they do, both teams love to go deep down the field. Corner and safety coverage down the field, and a timely interference call, can be the difference in a drive being killed and a drive being extended.
Be sure to watch Oregon’s linemen, especially early in the game. As I’ve said many times, Oregon’s young linemen will face stadium noise like never before. Combine that with Tennessee’s game plan to continuously blitz a young quarterback, and an inexperienced Oregon line could move backwards more than forward. If the yellow remains on the Jerseys and off the field, Oregon should be in good shape.
Each week coaches obsess over game plans for opposing offenses and defenses. Unfortunately, things tend to change over the course of the game. My fourth thing to look for in this game is Chip Kelly’s reaction to change.
In my opinion Oregon’s best chance to win lies with their webbed feet. Three words; run, run, and run. However, an amped Tennessee defense could put pressure on the Ducks’ running game early. In years past, Oregon coaches have tended to go away from the original game plan, abandoned the run, and therefore dug an even deeper hole.
A couple of short drives in the first quarter CAN NOT deter Oregon from what they do best. Watch the first few drives carefully today. If the run is stuffed early, see if Kelly turns to the air or continues on the ground. A steady and constant dosage of the running game is needed to tire the speedy Tennessee defense, and keep their explosive offense off the field.
In what looks to be a close game, there’s a good chance the game comes down to the final seconds. Saying this, my final thing to watch is Oregon’s freshman kicker Eric Solis.
Not only is the freshman playing in an atmosphere different to any before, but also a different surface. Tennessee is one of the few FBS teams left who play on a natural grass field. Solis, who said he hasn’t played on a grass surface since eighth grade doesn’t expect any problems this weekend.
However, I am not so certain.
Watch the kickers’ footing early. A slip or a bad kick here and there could all but destroy Solis’ confidence for the rest of the game. When it comes down to it, Oregon will rely on the freshman’s leg late in the fourth quarter to secure the win.