Oregon went into Saturday's matchup against the Tennessee Volunteers with plenty of questions and many doubters.
Although the Ducks were ranked No. 7 (AP) in the nation, some questions still loomed as Oregon took the field against Tennessee.
Suffice to say, the Ducks survived the frenzied crowd, the early onslaught by the Vols, and the stormy weather and also answered all the questions that faced them.
After the New Mexico game, we were all left wondering if Darron Thomas could run the football if need be. In that first matchup, Thomas ended up running the ball zero times for zero yards.
After Week 2's performance, it is easy to see now that he simply never felt the need or pressure to run the ball against the Lobos.
Against the Tennessee defense, which performed admirably in the first half, Thomas was under pressure and had to use his feet to get out of trouble and did so very well.
Thomas ran the ball seven times for just 34 yards, but many times he eluded tacklers in the backfield and made something out of nothing.
In Week 1 the Ducks certainly didn't need LaMichael James. In Week 2 the Ducks certainly did need No. 21.
Struggling to get anything going on offense or defense in the first half, the Ducks looked to James early in the second half to get the offense jump-started. James did not disappoint. His electrifying 72-yard run woke the Ducks from their slumber and broke the game wide open.
James is the kind of player that can make a play of this caliber each and every week, which makes him extremely dangerous and very, very special. Good luck to Portland State in trying to contain him.
Kenjon Barner's statistics from the Ducks' victory against the Volunteers will not jump off the page at you, but that doesn't matter. His seven runs for 26 yards do not begin to tell his importance.
Barner accumulated 191 return yards, although he did have a fumble on the first attempt, and a touchdown.
Besides that, Barner and James make up the most dynamic backfield in the country that can score from anywhere at any time against any opponent, which makes the Ducks a difficult team to defend and defeat.
For the first two quarters against Tennessee, the only reason the Ducks were in the game was because of the defense.
The offense stumbled out of the gate, and special teams gave away the football, while all the while the defense kept the Volunteers to two early field goals to limit the damage.
Without the defense keeping the Vols out of the end zone, the Ducks may have been in deep trouble and probably would have been in a much closer game than it turned out to be.
By limiting the Vols to just 13 points, the Oregon defense essentially kept the offense in striking distance and allowed the Ducks to never get too far behind despite the disastrous start.
Several times in the first half on Saturday, Thomas showed that he can excel when the defense puts pressure on him.
Early on the Vols' defensive line and blitzers were getting to Thomas and disrupting his ability to get the ball away to receivers. However, as Thomas became more comfortable in his surroundings, he began to get the ball away quickly or tuck the ball away and take off for a few yards.
I was unsure of Thomas' ability to handle pressure from a defense and a big game atmosphere, but he turned me into a believer. Thomas is a young quarterback that is only going to get better, which is scary for all those who stand in his way.
If there was any doubt about the ability of the Oregon coaching staff, Saturday's victory at Tennessee squashed all of it.
With Oregon unable to move the football or stop the Vols offense, the Oregon coaches used halftime to ensure their players that their offensive game plan would eventually wear the defense down and get the Ducks into a position to win.
Defensive coordinator Nick Allioti showed why he is regarded as one of the Pac-10's best. He took his confused defensive unit and turned them into a brick wall. After scoring 13 points in the first 17 minutes, the Volunteers were unable to hang any more points on the Ducks defense.
By pummeling Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, the Ducks earned a little respect in SEC country. The Volunteers praised how good, fast, and poised the Ducks were and gave quote after quote giving a Pac-10 school credit.
Here is a little sample:
Derek Dooley (Tennessee coach): "They have a great football team. They have a great coaching staff and they've got a lot of class; I'm impressed with everything about them.''
Nick Reveiz (Tennessee linebacker): "They're a great team and they beat our butts. Completely dismantled us."
Oregon may have won over this Tennessee team, but the rest of the SEC needs to be made into believers by the Ducks. Next season against LSU will be a great chance.
This was a good test for the Ducks. Everyone knows how good the Ducks can be in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium, but the true test of a team is what its can manage to do on the road.
Oregon went into Neyland Stadium unsure of its abilities on the road because it was its first game away this season and because it was Darron Thomas' first start away from Autzen.
Thomas and the rest of the team appeared to come out of the gate a bit shaken by their surroundings and atmosphere. Not only was the weather acting against the Ducks, but the raucous 100,000-plus fans were cheering against them.
Once the first quarter debacle passed, the Ducks took control and dominated both lines of scrimmage, which turned the tide of the game.
Tennessee came out and challenged the Ducks from the start. They ran the football down Oregon's throat and bullied them at the line of scrimmage.
The defense looked as though it was unable to gain any ground on the very young but massive Tennessee offensive line. Signs of last season Stanford's game began to show, as Oregon gave up 111 rushing yards in the first quarter.
Just as it seemed it couldn't get any worse for the Oregon defense, the defense stepped up. By allowing just 71 rushing yards after the first quarter, the Ducks took command of the line of scrimmage and showed the Vols their true colors.
Oregon's defense showed the toughness it needed to to let Duck fans know that it is not as susceptible to a physical rushing offense as a year ago.
Oregon proved why it is the best and most complete team in the Pac-10. Oregon has every piece of the puzzle to win a second consecutive Pac-10 title, and Saturday showed why.
The Ducks displayed their grittiness by surviving an incredibly strong start by the young Volunteer team. They showcased their offensive speed, depth, and maturity by not straying from their initial game plan of running the football, even though it showed no signs of life during the first half.
The defense gave Duck fans hope after a rocky start. Without the defense holding the Vols to two early field goals, this game may have been much closer throughout its entirety.
Although this Tennessee offense is not on par with the teams the Ducks will meet in Pac-10 play, the atmosphere and the stage will give the Ducks an early taste of pressure-packed moments and get them ready for tough Pac-10 road games.