Oregon vs Tennessee: It Feels Like Rain
Oregon vs. Tennessee | 11 Sep 2010 | Neyland Stadium
7:00pm EDT | ESPN2 and ESPN3.comI’ve been looking forward to this one for some time, as I love intersectional games. One of the most exciting, dynamic football programs comes to Knoxville Saturday night as the defending Pac-10 champions, ranked #7 in the AP poll (#8 in the Coaches’ poll). This year’s starting squad brings 17 out of 22 back from last season. More than relying on just experience, the Ducks kill their prey with speed and physical play within a very disciplined construct on both sides of the ball, including special teams. They are simply very, very good in every facet of the game.
Once upon a time, a highly regarded Pac-10 team came to town but couldn’t handle the speed and power of an SEC team. Times have changed. Oregon has the speed, the power, the discipline, and the schemes to beat anybody, including a somebody with their 102,000+ fans on a humid Southern night.
LaMichael James, the Oregon star running back, will play this Saturday after a one-game suspension because of off-season trouble. James spent two days in jail earlier this year after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge (brought on by an ex-girlfriend who claimed James grabbed her around the neck and shoved her to the ground). James will be joined in the backfield by Kenjon Barner who last week took James’ place and rushed for 147 yards and 4 rushing TDs with an added reception for a TD, tying Oregon’s modern scoring record.
Duck kicker Rob Beard comes back to the squad this week as well. Beard pleaded guilty to harassment in a separate case after Beard was involved in a brawl on January 23 that left him severely injured.
So, the Ducks are pretty much up to full strength — all the disciplinary problem children are back except for QB Jeremiah Masoli who’s down in Oxford these days — with the exception of a relatively inexperienced QB in Darron Thomas. He threw an INT on the Ducks’ first possession last week, and was a bit erratic throughout the game, tending to overthrow his receivers. But, thats just nitpicking when you just slaughtered your opponent by more than 70 points.
The Vols are too thin to have an injury problem at this point in the season and get away with it. Gerald Jones will not play for at least the next two games due to a broken bone in a hand that was stepped on by a UT Martin defender. Center Cody Pope was stunned in practice – he was “actin’ funny” according to Coach Dooley and was therefore sent to hospital as a precautionary measure – but he came back to practice later in the week with limited reps. TE Luke Stocker is banged up as well and was limited in this week’s practices. Denarius Moore has a bum ankle but will be available. In a bit of a surprise having nothing to do with injuries, Floridian freshman phenom-recruit Michael Palardy will take on kickoff duties. Daniel Lincoln will continue with place kicking duties and Chad Cunningham will be providing the punting prowess. The Wilson GST won’t help matters in this department. No doubt the Ducks use a Nike ball, being from the Land of the Swoosh and all.
Speed is the word of the week. Tennessee will have to stop Oregon’s speed with speed of their own – containing and creating havoc will be the order of the day for Justin Wilcox’s defensive unit. A fundamental key will be the ability of the Vol defenders to make sure tackles in order to dismember Oregon’s creation of space on offense. On this week’s Vols Calls, Dooley described the look of the Duck offense as similar to the old wishbone as run by former Oklahoma teams, except a wishbone that is widely spread out. Good luck to us.
Vols will have to also contend with an Oregon speed of a different kind – getting plays off. Oregon is famous for a no-huddle approach – not as a surprise element, but as a matter of course. They rely on reading the opponent’s defense and then making checks at the line of scrimmage. They also make quick huddles to try and catch the opponent off guard thinking that finally the Ducks are going to take a breather for at least a play.
That means the Vol secondary has to be on their toes and see everything that is going on at all times. Perhaps the Vols’ new Dynamic Duo of Janzen Jackson and Prentiss Waggner will create the big plays that all of us know is a must for the Vols to win.
But, what about the offensive strategy for the Vols? Time-of-possession shortfalls have been a significant factor in recent Oregon losses. Last year, Oregon was ambushed by Stanford in Palo Alto, with by Stanford controlling the games possession 38:22. It was worse for the Ducks in the Rose Bowl where Ohio State dominated the possession clock 42:18.
So, it makes you think that the Vols will try to play keep-away with a continual ground attack in order to establish and maintain possession. WE WILL NOT WIN THIS GAME BY TRYING TO SLOG IT OUT WITH A RUNNING GAME DESIGNED TO WIN THE TIME OF POSSESSION. This is the kind of game opponent that will require a passing attack to open up the ground game, and creating multiple turnovers followed by conversion of those turnovers into points. WE MUST MAKE THIS A CRAZY-ASSED GAME AND GET AWAY WITH IT. Having a nice tidy plan of keeping the ball away from the Ducks isn’t going to get it. All good plans will go awry; we must deal with chaos adroitly on Saturday.
As of this writing, tickets are still available. This is hugely disappointing. I know, there are the excuses/reasons of the bad economy, Tennessee fans have to travel long distances and night games are more difficult for those folks, etc. But the Neyland Factor is speedily traveling on to become more myth than reality. Fans who still live in the past need to wake up and smell the Tennessee bacon — by most indications, we are not a very good football team (as measured by our standards), and this team needs us. As long as the Vols give us 100% for 60 minutes, we fans as the Vol Nation need to show up. And when we show up, we need to STAND UP AND BE HEARD – FOR SIXTY LONG MINUTES.
I don’t care who is sitting behind you. STAND UP AND BE LOUD. AND TURN AROUND AND TELL THOSE BEHIND YOU TO STAND UP AS WELL. IT’S A FOOTBALL GAME!
Noise could be an integral part to a Vol win. Oregon, unlike Tennessee, has an experienced front line. As Vol LB Nick Reveiz said this week, Oregon does a lot of checking at the line of scrimmage.
“That’s why the crowd’s going to be extremely important in causing confusion on that side of the ball for Oregon. We’re going to need them to be extremely loud.” – Nick Reveiz, UT Linebacker
Is that too much to ask? NO.
GET ‘ER DONE, VOL FANS.
We have to win the clock with possession. We have to play mistake free. We have to create turnovers and capitalize with scores. And, we have to contain their offense with defensive speed. AND VOL FANS HAVE TO BE LOUD AS HELL.
Dale Newton at the very fine Oregon blog The Duck Stops Here eloquently describes the hope that the Vols will have Saturday.
“The last time (Oregon) entered a legendary 100,000-seat stadium they failed. The last two times they faced a defense coached by Justin Wilcox they were embarrassed and looked slow and disorganized.”
Dale continues by recounting how an unknown Chuck Webb in 1989 came out of practically nowhere to become a star against Ole Miss in 1989 and how that could happen again on Saturday.
Sometimes great players choose a day to emerge that logic and preseason polls never accounted for. Sometimes they are touched by the stars, or lifted by a fervent crowd to a place within them they never knew. 100,000 hearts beating with one hope can do that. It is an awe-inspiring sight. Then again, Neyland Stadium is a awe-inspiring site, a venue that has seen Cal and Notre Dame and dozens of other smug and under prepared teams have a frustrating and unaccounted-for collapse.”
It would be a major accomplishment for Derek Dooley to lead his troops to a win on Saturday. It would also be a welcome tonic in establishing himself as the real deal to those who have outlandish expectations.
You see, Derek Dooley spoke at a meeting of area business and community leaders last spring. He said all of the right things – the basis for his philosophy that comes from master coaches like Saban and Senior Dooley, and how and why he was changing the structure and culture of the program.
Then he was asked just one question: “How long do you think it will be before we win a national championship?”
It will be a long, hard road.
I’ve pledged to write on this site exactly how I feel and how I thinks events will likely unfold. Doing otherwise would be a big waste of my time as well as your time. Sometimes I don’t like how I feel. Right now, for the immediate term, is one of them. Saturday will likely be a big bump in that road that surely leads the Orange back to glory.
Oregon 44 Tennessee 21
But, I’m not afraid of that road. Even though Saturday’s forecast is for thunderstorms and showers, with very warm temperatures, and the other forecast is for the Oregon Ducks to rain down on us with their speed and power, Buddy Guy gives us the strength for the near-term:
So batten down the hatch baby And leave your heart up your sleeve It looks like we’re in for stormy weather But there ain’t no cause for us to leave.
Sing it Buddy…