The warm-ups are history.
Two wins. Two inferior opponents.
On Saturday, Tennessee will be the inferior foe when it plays the fast-paced Oregon Ducks, who have become synonymous with today’s version of fast-break college football.
In Oregon’s mind, it’s a simple approach. Here way go – try to stay up.
Few teams have matched the Ducks’ vaunted pace. Many have fallen by the wayside.
Now, it’s the Vols’ turn come Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time in Eugene, Ore.
Three years ago Oregon came east to play at Neyland Stadium. The Ducks whacked Tennessee, 48-13, and it really wasn’t that close.
In Saturday’s rematch, the Ducks are expected to do it all over again.
“They’re 31-3 at home in the last five years, four consecutive BCS bowl games, and they’re as good as advertised,” Vols coach Butch Jones said in statements posted on the school’s website Monday.
Jones added, “Probably the most complete team I’ve seen in a number of years. Team speed, everything that you think of when you think of Oregon comes to mind.”
In 2010, Oregon slashed and dashed its way to 447 yards of total offense and the game was tied 13-13 at halftime. After the break, however, the Ducks were still in high gear and the Vols’ defense had lost a step or two. Oregon scored 35 second-half points and the Vols got zip and one in the crowd of 102,035 had any doubt as to which team was superior.
So, what does Jones know this week that Derek Dooley, the Vols’ coach back in 2010, couldn’t figure out – or maybe simply just couldn’t stop from happening – that might help the Vols challenge the Ducks.
Just for the record, Oregon is a 27- to 27 ½-point pick to punch the Vols’ lights out for a second time in an early line posted on vegas.com Monday afternoon.
“Obviously,” Jones said, “they’re a great football team. It’s a tremendous challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity. We’re going to have to be able to withstand without substituting seven, eight, nine plays in a row. Can our defensive front play mean football for eight, nine plays in a row without substituting? Can we get lined up fast and decipher the call and execute our assignment when you can’t hear, you can’t communicate?
“That’s all part of mental toughness, that mental conditioning.”
Coaches often say a fast team’s speed sometimes can’t be duplicated in practice, and Oregon is a prime example of that type thinking. The Ducks are fast just getting off the team bus outside the stadium, no matter where they’re playing.
Jones also talks about space. Not NASA space. Football space, in addition to Oregon’s foot speed.
“What they do a great job with is they create space in everything that they do,” he said. “It’s space and pace. That’s the way they play. So, we’re going to have to be great one-on-one tacklers. We’re going to have to win our one-on-one matchups.”
As if that’s not enough to worry about, Jones said Oregon is not build on a philosophy of finesse.
“They’re a physical football team,” said Jones, whose Vols travel to bitter rival Florida to open Southeastern Conference play a week after tangling with the Ducks.
Another subject Jones touched on during his Monday press conference dealt with the mushroom effect of high-powered offenses.
“First of all, it’s a mindset,” Jones said. “They’re going to make their big plays. But it’s not letting one play equal two, equal three, equal four and have a snowball effect.”
In their 2013 season opener, the Ducks routed Virginia, 59-10.
A week later, Oregon smashed Nicholls, 66-3.
Granted, neither opponent registered as a heavyweight. Oregon simply did its thing, took care of business and easily locked up two more wins.
Tennessee junior wide receiver Jacob Carter realizes Oregon’s defense doesn’t get the attention the offense does, but it’s part of the Ducks’ success.
“I think their defense is great,” Carter is quoted as saying on the website release, “because their offense is very vivid, fast and athletic. Their offense makes them used to fast teams (which Tennessee is trying to become). I think they are a smart defense.”
Junior quarterback Justin Worley, who was still a prep star at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., when the Vols met Oregon in 2010, said the Tennessee offense has to hold up its end of the bargain on Saturday.
“We have to 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 I,.” Worley said.
It’s a daunting task the Vols face in the first road game of the season with the tough assignment at Florida on the horizon.
Carter, for one, enjoys playing road games.
“Home games are great, but away games, I don’t know, it’s something different,” Carter said. “It’s a different feeling. You’re kind of in your own little world, just you and your crew, the team you’re with.”
Randolph “Picks” Up SEC Honor: Tennessee redshirt sophomore defensive back Brian Randolph was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, becoming the first Vol to earn the honor since Eric Berry on Nov. 24, 2008.
Randolph recorded the first two interceptions of his career on Saturday, picking off Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty twice in the end zone in the Vols’ 52-20 triumph.
The Marietta Ga., native piled up 38 return yards on his picks, and added eight tackles and one pass break up from his strong safety position.
Tennessee forced seven turnovers against the Hilltoppers, the team’s most since recording seven against Memphis on Nov. 10, 1984. The Vols forced turnovers on a NCAA-record four consecutive plays in the first quarter and came up with the ball on five of six plays.
Led by Randolph, the Big Orange pulled in five interceptions, marking the most since achieving the same feat against Kentucky on Nov. 20, 1999. Tennessee, which is currently tied for first in the nation with nine forced turnovers, returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the win.
Berry was a two-time winner of the award in 2008, earning the honor for his performances against Vanderbilt (Nov. 22) and Mississippi State (Oct. 18). Since, Tennessee has earned four SEC defensive honors, including three on the defensive line and one freshman award.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)