Hey guys, I've finally calmed my excitement enough to write about this incredible game from our Ducks. Despite some ridiculously rude and classless Tennessee fans that I encountered (We'll touch on that later.), I had an excellent time at Neyland Stadium. Here's a retrospective.
My dad and I headed over to Downtown Knoxville at about 3:00. After an easy 10 minute drive in the rain, we arrived near UT's campus. There was very little traffic (surprisingly). We easily found a place to park on the street. We headed over to the Downtown Grill and Brewery to grab some dinunch/linner. Waited for about 15 minutes in a restaurant that seemed like a fairly even 50/50 split between Vol and Duck fans for a table. This was where we encountered the best UT fans. We had some people welcome us to Knoxville (whoops, we actually live here.), some people wish us the best of luck in the game, and all that jazz. We ended up being seated next to some friendly Duck fans that had made the trip to Knoxville from Sacramento that consisted of two parents and two U of O students. After watching some of the 3:30 games on the TVs and enjoying an awesome burger (on a homemade cornmeal bun, no less), we started heading down towards Neyland at about 5:00.
This was no short walk. The price we paid for parking in a fairly unpopulated area for free was the walk. Although it was downhill, it was still a haul. This is where our experience with Vol fans started to turn sour. We walked by plenty of Tennessee tailgates and encountered some pretty foul heckling. Creative phrases such as "F** the Ducks!", "go back to hippie land!", and other stupid stuff like that were thrown at us. In the grand scheme of things, that wasn't too bad, but still, it was annoying. We did see some Tennessee fans that we knew and talked to them at their tailgates, and obviously, they were gracious and wished the Ducks luck. At around 6:15, we headed into Neyland Stadium. It took us a while to walk to our seats, but around 6:30 we finally made it. Sadly, we were seated in a sea of orange. We were approximately 5 rows below the de facto Oregon section. The Vol fans (at this point) seemed not to really pay any attention to us. We enjoyed the pregame festivities, which included the releasing of "doves" (actually white pigeons.), seeing the Pride of the Southland band march, and screaming loudly for the Ducks amid boos as they entered the field of play. After the longest 30 minutes of my life, the Ducks elected to kick off, and it was time for football.
First Quarter (Pre-Monsoon):
This was, by far, the worst part of our experience at Neyland (yes, even worse than the horrible rain delay). During the opening kickoff, as is customary for Duck fans, we yelled "OOOOOOOO!" and put the O up high in the air. This did not sit well with the Tennessee fans in the row behind us. The man sitting behind me said, "You need to put that O down." I ignored him. Before the Vols' first offensive play, I did the same thing. The man had the nerve to NOT EVEN ADDRESS ME, but to address my dad. He said, "Excuse me sir, but I've already told your son once to put his O down. He needs to stop disrespecting me and put his O down." This is on the SECOND PLAY OF THE GAME. My dad did not appreciate this. He basically told the guy off, told him that he had no right to tell me not to cheer for my team and stand up, saying that he would do the same if he was in my shoes. Another Tennessee fan, who was a complete asshole during the whole game, taunting us and later throwing a drink towards us during the 4th, reminded us that "there are a hell of a lot more of us than there are of you." Classy. Anyway, we were catching plenty of hell after a few nice Tauren Poole runs and a Tennessee field goal. Kenjon Barner's fumble on the Ducks' first kickoff return compounded the heckling. After the Vols capitalized on Kenjon's fumble with yet another field goal to extend Tennessee's lead to 6-0, the heavens opened up.
Bobby Denton, Tennessee's venerable PA man, came on the loudspeaker to inform the stadium that "The University of Tennessee has received word that inclement weather, including lightning, is within 6 miles of Neyland Stadium. Please seek shelter immediately." We looked to the west of the stadium and saw some incredibly ominous looking black clouds. We decided to stick it out for a few minutes and see if it would pass. After the rain drops began to fall, we decided to head for the dryness of the concourse. Well...this was a giant mess. We were at an absolute standstill once we got to the concourse entrance. We were stuck out in the rain, a driving, pouring, freezing cold rain, just a few feet from being under the stands in dryness. It was a legitimately dangerous situation. People were stuck, not being able to move. There could have really been a tragic situation (STAMPEDE!) if anyone would have freaked out and tried to rush the crowd. Anyway, after the intervention of a few cops, we began to move. We seeked shelter in, of all places, a concession stand stockroom. After waiting for around an hour in what can best be described as a humid sweatbox, the teams came back onto the field for a mandatory 10 minute warm up period, and we all headed back to our seats.
First Quarter (Post-Monsoon):
After a 78 minute rain/lightning delay, it was finally time to resume the football game. I was feeling pretty nervous at this point. Our offense hadn't seen the field yet, and our defense was not handling Tennessee's power running game well at all. Tauren Poole was having a field day. However, I did have a pretty strong feeling that our offense would be able to get something going. My excitement, however, was tempered after the Ducks came out after the lightning delay and promptly went 3 and out. Jackson Rice booted his first of many great punts on the day. However, once again, Poole busted off a big run that put the Vols into Duck territory. After a huge defensive stop on 4th down at the Tennessee 30, my faith was restored in our offense after a long, methodical drive in which Darron Thomas looked very impressive. A Rob Beard field goal capped off this drive, and the Ducks drew within a field goal, 6-3. Once again, our defense looked bad on the next series. 2 more big Tauren Poole runs and an excellent catch by Justin Hunter put the Vols at the Oregon 1 yard line at the end of the period.
Poole kicked off the second quarter with 2 rushes, the second being a touchdown. At this point, Neyland Stadium was absolutely rocking. We were once again being taunted, and at this point, I was legitimately concerned. Our defense looked porous against an offense that we had no business looking this bad against. Another stalled drive for Oregon after the touchdown just added to Neyland's intensity. I was very, very worried at this point that we were going to go into halftime down 20-3. The Vols had momentum and about 102,000 fans behind them. It was LOUD. I've been to a few games at Neyland in my time, and this was probably the loudest I've heard it (a stark contrast from the last game at Neyland that I had attended prior to last night's game, a loss in 2008 to Wyoming). I was beginning to PANIC! After coming THIS close to jumping into the Tennessee River after ANOTHER big Tauren Poole run after Rice's punt, we got a stop. A CRUCIAL stop. I wasn't feeling so good, though, after Chad Cunningham's punt, fair caught by Kenjon at the Oregon 15, and a false start placed the Ducks at their own 10 yard line to start the drive. Darron Thomas, however, kicked off a nice drive with a 17 yard keeper on a zone read play. Tennessee fans around us were marveling about Thomas's ability to disguise who had the ball on the zone read. I smiled. LaMichael also started to get it going on this drive, and looked (in the words of the same Tennessee fan that didn't like my O) very "squirrley", much like the LaMichael James of 2009. Despite the end result of 3 points on this drive, I was a little concerned with the three false start penalties that we had on the drive. Neyland's seemed to be having an effect on our offense, which is obviously not good, especially considering our no-huddle tendency. However, the tide suddenly began to turn. Tennessee's 3 and out, combined with an awful play call by Derek Dooley (throwing the ball which stopped the clock on 3rd down), gave the Ducks a shot at a field goal to draw the game even closer before the half. Darron Thomas, however, laughed in my face and just went ahead and threw a perfect strike to David Paulson (which happened right in front of me) for a touchdown to end the half in a great way. Neyland went from being raucous and loud to stunned and almost silent.
Mmm, Neyland Stadium's vendors DO make some good popcorn. Really nice ratio of popcorn, butter, and salt. I enjoyed some of that at halftime. Another notable moment during halftime was a video of the pre-game festivities at Neyland, which included a clip of Oregon fans wearing shirts that said "We Hate Kiffin Too." This was met with a huge chorus of cheers from Oregon and Tennessee fans alike. As my dad and I were relaxing in a concourse, eating popcorn, a Tennessee fan came up to us and said, "Man, I think you guys have got us. This is going to be ugly."
Despite our opening drive of the third quarter, which stalled, Neyland was still pretty quiet, and I was surprisingly calm. Jackson Rice impressed once again, with a beautiful punt that was downed at the Tennessee 6 yard line. This helped depress Tennessee's crowd further. I was honestly shocked at how quiet Neyland was at this point. They were tied with the #7 team in the country in the second half. I suppose Tennessee fans held the same opinion as the man that we talked to at halftime. They knew that we were going to break it open at some point, and that the whole Neyland vibe was gone and not helping Tennessee anymore. The Vols were forced to punt once again, and then this happened.
Pandemonium. I went insane. The green and yellow sections went insane. I think I broke a toe while celebrating. Neyland turned SILENT, sans Duck fans. The LaMichael of 2009 was back in full force. I think this is when I began to realize that we were going to blow it open, despite only having a 7 point lead. On the ensuing Tennessee drive, I got a bit worried once again when they began to drive deep into Duck territory. Until this.
Not having to hear Giansante or Patrick announce this made it even better. This was when I KNEW the game was over. Even though I knew the game was a done deal, it did surprise me that plenty of Tennessee fans began to head towards the exits at this point. I mean, it was only a two score game. I guess Tennessee fans just knew better. By this point, the Ducks in Neyland were in all-out party mode. Chants of "Let's Go Ducks! Let's go Ducks!" and "OOOOOOO!" drowned out any noise that the Tennessee faithful were making. It was an absolute BLAST. The rest of the quarter was pretty dull. Neither team managed much of anything offensively.
Ah, Darron Thomas. He made me smile on the first drive of the fourth quarter. He connected with the Maehlman a couple times to set up shop inside the Tennessee thirty yard line, then promptly threw a pretty ball that Lavasier Tuinei made an incredible catch on to put the Ducks ahead 34-13. More pandemonium from the Duck fans, and more and more orange and white clad fans leaving the stadium. It was probably about half empty by this point. 3 and out Tennessee. Then, this.
Cunningham completely outkicked his coverage, and Kenjon Barner took advantage. The boorish Tennessee fan seated next to me, who had been rude and obnoxious the whole game (getting in our faces and cheering during Tennessee big plays, using derogatory language towards the Ducks) got up, began to leave, and chucked his drink towards us. We were too happy to really care, but a guy about 3 rows in front of us (a Tennessee fan), took exception to his behavior, yelled a few choice words at him, and threw a drink right back at him. 41-13 Ducks. Another Tennessee possession, another punt. On the Ducks' next drive, Nate Costa and Remene Alston entered to HUGE cheers from the Duck fans, who ruled the stadium at this point. We drove down the field on the back of Remene (and one nice 11 yard Costa run) and extended our lead to 48-13. I was happy to see Remene score, as he was playing in front of his family (from North Carolina). Even more celebration. We sang Mighty Oregon. Tennessee punted once again, and the Ducks went into the Victory Formation and ran the clock out.
How sweet it was.
We walked back to our car, high-fived a lot of Duck fans, and walked by a bunch of sad-looking Tennessee fans. I was sad to leave. I won't see this much green and yellow for a long time.
All in all, one hell of a night. I loved seeing a beatdown delivered by the Ducks. I shouldn't get any flack from Vol fans for quite some time.
I hope you guys enjoyed this.
Thanks, and GO DUCKS!
*Darron Thomas was the right choice. He's very poised in the pocket, and has an uncanny ability to run the zone read. Not to mention a rocket arm.
*LaMichael James was no one-hit wonder. He's going to run all over defenses again this season.
*Tennessee isn't going to be very good for another 2 or 3 years.
*Duck fans travel well.
*Duck fans must have encountered some REALLY bad road fans in the past if they are so fond of Tennessee fans.
*We need to step it up defensively against teams that want to run the ball down our throats.
*Stanford is going to be a HUGE test for us.
*Think about how well Darron Thomas did in his first career road start in front of 100,000 people that wanted him to fail. Think of how special this kid can be.
*I love my Ducks.
*John Boyett can jump for a short white guy. He dunked a ball in the goalpost during pre-game warm ups.