The Sound and the Fury
Oregon 48 Tennessee 13
11 Sep 2010 | Neyland Stadium | 102,035Recap | Boxscore | Play-by-play | Drive Chart
With 8:53 left in the first quarter, a good old-fashioned late-summer thunderstorm unleashed its sound and fury. That was just after the Vols and their fans in a floodlit Neyland Stadium unleashed their own sound and fury to ruffle the Ducks’s feathers for a quick 6-0 lead. One hour and 10 minutes later, following a mandated safety break due to lightening, the sound and fury of Vol football in the house that a General built resumed in front of a full-throated Volunteer party that reached its apex with the Vols ahead 13-3 just after the first quarter break.
Rebuilding? Rebuilding what? Tennessee football was back.
But in the end, Shakespeare was right…
…for the Vols’ complete dominance of the Oregon Ducks for most of the first half was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Yes, Tennessee did what they needed to do early in order to prevent the worst scenario – the Ducks taking the crowd out of the game. On the game’s very first play from scrimmage, Vol tailback Tauren Poole broke free for a 31-yard gain, followed by a 17-yard gain by Denarius Moore’s reception on a wideout route. But after going conservative, The Vols had to settle for a Daniel Lincoln 48-yard field goal.
Three instead of seven – it didn’t matter. The Vols had put the Oregon Ducks on notice – the Orange were here to play. But when Kenjon Barner took the ensuing kickoff to near midfield, you could see that our initial advantage would be swiftly minimized by Duck open-field speed, anticipated to be Oregon’s signature on Shields-Watkins Field… Except that Art Evans stripped Barner of the ball, creating a turnover and an explosion of sound from the vast majority of the 102,035 in attendance.
After an initial 21-yard gain by Da’Rick Rogers on an end-around run, the Vols’ drive stalled out for the second consecutive possession and ended in another Lincoln field goal, this time a 35 yarder.
The metaphorical electric atmosphere created by the Big Orange surprise attack turned literal as the skies immediately to the South of the stadium were ready to open up with water and light. After both squads were sent to their respective dressing rooms at 7:20 pm, you had to wonder if this was the worst possible timing, defrocking the Vols of the momentum that they dearly needed to have a chance in this matchup.
The Vol defense temporarily diffused any fear by stopping the Ducks on a three-and-out. And when the Vols recaptured possession, Tauren Pool broke through a huge hole for a 45-yard gain to keep the sound and fury at top speed. But once again, the Vol drive stalled, and facing a 4th down-and-six at the Oregon 30, Vol head coach Derrick Dooley decided that field goals weren’t going to win this contest and decided to give it a go. Simms’ pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, giving the ball back to Oregon.
You could now start to see the Ducks begin to feel their wings just a bit. The trickery of the option was confusing the Vol defense. But when Vol safety Janzen Jackson broke up at pass on 3rd and 9, the Ducks, too, settled for a field goal, a 37-yarder by Rob Beard.
The Vols’ energy still retained a lot of voltage. Tauren Poole broke free for 14 yards on the first play, and 23 yards on the second, and when high-jumper Justin Hunter picked the ball from the heavens at the one yard line to finish the first quarter, it looked like an upset was more than just a possibility. Poole finished off the drive to put Tennessee ahead 13-3, and you could see in your mind’s eye the eyebrows being raised by most of the nation who were watching Penn State at Alabama over on ESPN.
Tennessee had just completely dominated the Oregon Ducks during the first quarter with the Vol offensive line pushing around the Duck defensive front at will, opening big holes to allow big running gains and giving QB Matt Simms protection.
But Oregon eventually found some rhythm in a second period drive. Starting from their own 15, the Ducks tried their very best to shoot themselves with three false start penalties. But they perseveared, and began to find some space with their offense. QB Darron Thomas developed masterful play-action fakes, confusing the Vol defense and allowing for Duck gains. On a 4th and 1, the Ducks converted on the big call, and it seemed to give the visitors a jolt and rhythm. Now Oregon picked up the tempo – shorter time between plays. But the Vols held the Ducks to a Beard 42 yard FG, cutting the Tennessee lead to 7 at 13-6.
Then, the initial events leading to the Vols’ demise unfolded.
Tennessee could not get a drive going, going three-and-out, preventing the Vols from maintaing possession for the remainder of the first half. Tennessee punter Chad Cunningham shanked his punt to the right, out of bounds, giving the Ducks good field position.
On a second down play, TE David Paulson couldn’t hang on to a pass, desperately trying to corral the ball while looking more like a juggler than a receiver. When Paulson eventually hit the ground, Vol corner back Eric Gordon led his pursuit with his helmet on the defenseless Duck TE and was flagged for 15 yards. Two plays later, a soft floating pass from Darron Thomas hit Paulson over the middle for touchdown to even the score at 13.
A completely dominating performance by the Vols was negated by a bad punt and a bonehead defensive play. The inability to take care of business and finish off the half with a minimum 7-point lead would perhaps serve as the mental undoing of the young Tennessee squad.
The advantage gained by Tauren Pool’s 140 rushing yards in the first half seemed to evaporate by the Vol’s inability to take care of business.
After Tennessee and Oregon traded possessions to open the second half, and seemingly were headed toward a cagey third quarter, the Ducks went big-play on the Vols twice in their next two possessions to let the air out of Neyland Stadium.
On the first play, Duck TB LaMichael James was contained by the pursuing Vol defense when he attempted to run to the right. James switched directions in his backfield to the left, ran around the left end with ease, adroitly tip-toed down the right sideline without losing any speed, broke a missed tackle by Vol LB LaMarcus Thompson at the Tennessee 20, and then gave the Ducks their first lead by sprinting into the orange-and-white checkerboard.
Neyland Stadium was quiet for the first time.
On the ensuing possession, the Vols ventured into Duck territory. Simms was pressured on a 3rd-and-long, threw late to the far right, not being properly set to get maximum zip on the ball, and Cliff Harris stepped in front of receiver Zach Rogers for a 76-yard pick-six.
In a flash, the Ducks 10-point deficit was a 14-point advantage, and the Vols’ fortunes were deflated.
The remainder of the game became more of an embarrassment than a contest as the matchup devolved into Duck physical and mental dominance. As the fourth quarter began, Darron Thomas hit Lavasier Tuiner with a pass for a Duck touchdown that Vol defender Art Evans should have intercepted. And after Tennessee went three-and-out on the next possession, Kenjon Barner returned a Chad Cunningham punt 80 yards for yet another Duck score.
The game was beyond over at 41-13, and Neyland Stadium looked similar to the scene during the Florida game two years ago when the locals headed to the exits en mass long before the final whistle.
The pain and suffering wasn’t over. Once again, the Vols went three-and-out, and the Oregon Ducks slowly slogged the ball down the field against a noticeably dispirited Vol defense. Remene Alston Jr.’s touchdown run put the final green and yellow stamp on the game, leaving the Vols looking like the rebuilding program that they really are.
After the Neyland atmosphere bolstered the Vols to an early lead, I must admit I was more than hopeful. But when the Vols couldn’t close out the second quarter and allowed the Ducks to even the score at the break, the smell of death hung thick. Before that point, Oregon had shown signs of getting their rhythm. Eventually, it fully flowered into a scene of total dominance that we haven’t seen in a while. Their late sound and fury was real fire; our early superiority truly signified nothing. It’s a 60-minute game and we lasted only about 25. Down 13-3, the Ducks scored 45 unanswered points that will leave me looking in the record books for the last time that happened on Shields-Watkins field.
I’ll leave that research project for tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’ll soak in the reality of the situation. My prediction of a 5-and-7 season feels overly optimistic. My fear of a 1977-like bottoming out, or worse, looks more likely.
But the key word is ‘bottoming’, for as I fully understood our current predicament going into the season, I retain the optimism for the future of Tennessee football. I know that someday, we will be back in the high life again.