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2010 Oregon Football Preview :: Tennessee Volunteers

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Part two in a series on Oregon's 2010 season opponents

4:00 PM PST :: September 11, 2010 :: Neyland Stadium

Opponent Tennessee
Nickname Volunteers
Location Knoxville, TN
Enrollment 27,107
Head Coach Derek Dooley (first season at Tennessee, 17-20 overall)
Stadium Neyland Stadium (102,459) : natural grass (Patriot Bermuda)
2009 Record 7-6, (4-4 SEC)
Starters Returning 3 Offense : 6 Defense
Base Offense Pro Style
Base Defense 4-3
Blogs Rocky Top Talk
Newspapers The Tennessean, Knoxville News Sentinel

I've had Oregon's game against Tennessee marked on my calendar for some time. Oregon doesn't often head to SEC-land, and even more rarely do they play in one of the most famous stadiums in college football.

Tennessee is obviously Oregon's premiere non-conference matchup, and that is mainly due to history and location, and has little to do with the team that Tennessee puts on the field on September 11, 2010.

Unfortunately for Volunteer fans, they are one of the few teams that rivals the Ducks in offseason turmoil. After Lane Kiffin bolted after one year on the job, Tenneessee scrambled to find a new coach, and settled on Derek Dooley, son of Georgia's Vince Dooley. The younger Dooley has fared well in the PR campaign in Knoxville, but was a lackluster coach before arriving at Tennessee, racking up a 17-20 record at WAC school Louisiana Tech.

While Dooley's coaching chops can be rightly questioned, he's had nothing but problems cleaning up the mess left by Lane Kiffin. Multiple players have left the Tennessee program, including former prized recruit Bryce Brown (who informed coach Dooley of his intentions via text message), and Tennessee players were involved in a bar brawl that led to the dismissal of one player.

But to Dooley's credit, he's working to change the Tennessee culture (something that Kiffin put no effort into), and has seemed to handle the offseason as good as can be expected.

Needless to say, Vol fans and Duck fans seem to have quite a bit in common, and the Volunteers are doing the only thing they can do, look forward to the season, no matter what that may bring.

2009 Offensive Statistics

Statistic Tennessee Oregon
Pass Offense 223.6 (46) 180.31 (98)
Rush Offense 157.31 (54) 231.69 (6)
Total Offense 383.6 (60) 412.00 (33)
Scorng Offense 29.3 (43) 36.08 (8)
Pass Efficiency 135.8 (39) 128.03 (59)
Sacks Allowed 1.39 (31) 1.00 (10)
3rd Down Conversion % 39.77 (59) 35.12 (95)
Yards/Play 5.7 (46) 6.0 (24)

The 2009 Tennessee offense was actually a bit of a surprise (to me at least), as Jonathan Crompton, after struggling for two years, become an efficient and competent QB, leading the Volunteers above-average offense.

Unfortunately, Tennessee is returning almost no one to that offense, and return no starters on the offensive line, a unit that has only 13 career starts, good for 117th in the nation. As we found out last year, this type of inexperience in an offensive line, no matter how talented, can be devastating in early season games. I expect this inexperience to show greatly against the Ducks, who are experienced, and becoming quite adept at their new defense. It will be tough for strong offensive lines to be able to handle the Ducks varied blitzing schemes, but seems like an insurmountable task for an offensive line as young as the Volunteers.

Tennessee is also breaking in JC QB Matt Simms, Jr. (son of Phil, brother to Chris), who beat out touted freshman Tyler Bray in the spring). Unfortunately, though both QBs have talent, this is a very untested group, and is widely recognized to be near the bottom of the conference (Scout has them at 12th, and Phil Steele has them tied with Vanderbilt at 11th). The consensus seems to be that Tennessee can consider themselves lucky if that can match last years production. Needless to say, inexperienced offensive line and inexperienced QB does not lead me to believe that this is a likely scenario.

Tennessee's only saving grace on offense is that they have a lot of talent at the skill positions. At wide receiver, they return a solid unit led by seniors Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones and tight end Luck Stocker. These three players were the top 3 receivers for Tennessee last year, and should give some reliable targets to the inexperienced QBs.

At running back, inexperience again abounds, but there is talent there. Tauren Poole (5-11, 213) and highly touted David Oku (5-10, 195) should provide a solid combination, though they may have a tough time finding holes early on.

Oregon should match up very well with this offense. I anticipate Tennessee having a lot of problems handling Oregon's defensive schemes, and the Tennessee receiving corp should provide a good test for the Ducks talented but young secondary.

This is an offense that Oregon should handle, and should provide a very good barometer for where the Ducks stand as a defense.

2009 Defensive Statistics

Statistic Tennessee Oregon
Pass Defense 169.3 (12) 207.62 (44)
Rush Defense 149.46 (65) 128.69 (42)
Total Defense 318.8 (22) 336.31 (35)
Scoring Defense 22.2 (37) 23.77 (51)
Pass Efficiency Defense 102.15 (12) 112.30 (25)
Tackles for Loss 5.46 (63) 6.31 (40)
Opponent 3rd Down % 35.87 (32) 37.91 (51)
Turnover Margin 0.23 (45) +0.15 (51)
Yards/Play Allowed 4.9 (27) 4.4 (12)

The Tenneesee defense was quite good last year, and kept them in games against some of the best teams in the nation, and it was mostly due to Eric Berry, who was the second best defender in college football last year after Ndamukong Suh.

Losing Berry will be a massive blow to the defense, as players like him don't come around all that often. But Tennessee added former Duck Justin Wilcox as defensive coordinator. Wilcox has done an excellent job at Boise State the last few years, and I expect him to have the defense is strong shape regardless of losses.

The strength of Tennessee's defense is at the defensive ends. Seniors Ben Martin and Chris Walker are talented and productive, a deadly combination. Unfortunately, they are not returning any starters in the interior. Sophomores Marlon Walls (6-3, 278) and Montori Hughes (6-4, 305) are slated to start, and while a question mark, at least provide size to not be manhandled.

The interior line issue is compounded with the loss of LB Rico McCoy, who accounted for 119 tackles for the Vols next season. If the interior line is unable to make plays for the Vols, they will need their linebacking corp to step up and make those plays (a position that Duck fans can at times relate to). But there are 5 linebackers in the two deep with starting experience, including MLB Nick Reveiz, who tore his ACL after 4 games last season.

Rounding out the defense is the secondary, which is filled with a number of talented players and returns two starters (CB Art Evans and FS Janzen Jackson). But this unit can't hope to match its production when it was led by Berry. It should be more than competent, but they will definitely slip from their top-15 perch they held last season.

Oregon should face a good test against this defense. Inexperienced in places and talented, they will be prepared to face Oregon's spread, it will come down to execution. Oregon's experience on the offensive line should provide a strong edge in the game, but Tennessee also holds the intangible edge of home field advantage, which will be a strong test for the Ducks QBs, as they face their first true road test.

2009 Special Teams Statistics

Statistic Tennessee Oregon
Kick Returns 24.02 (20) 24.91 (10)
Punt Returns 9.33 (55) 12.00 (27)
Kickoff Returns Against 22.44 (82) 20.85 (42)
Punt Returns Against 10.27 (81) 6.83 (36)

The main key to special teams play is program depth, and the Vols don't have a lot of it right now. Because of that, I don't expect their return coverage units to improve by any significant degree. Also, they return punter and kickoff specialist Chad Cunningham, so improvement in either area will be unlikely.

For placekicking, the Vols return Daniel Lincoln, in his 4th year. Unfortunately, after being a freshman All-American in 2007, he's fallen on hard times the last two seasons, hitting only 20/38, though he was hampered by a quad injury last season.

In the return game, David Oku returns, who was responsible for the production on kickoff returns, though dismissed Nu'Keese Richardson will need to replaced in the punt return game.

In Oregon's game against Tennessee, Oregon should hold the field position advantage in kicking off, but Tennessee will hold an advantage in placekicking, which will hopefully not become a factor in the game.

Final Analysis

I would love to see a 3 touchdown victory for the Ducks, and it's definitely possible. Tennessee will provide good tests on both sides of the ball, but this is an offense the Ducks should really control, and hopefully hold to less than 14 points. I just don't see the Tennessee line handling Oregon's schemes, and that could lead to problems throughout the day for the Volunteers. Much like last years UCLA game, this is a team the Ducks should control, and I will be looking for them to do just that.

On the other side, this will be a great test for the Oregon QBs. It will be the first really adverse environment either will have faced. Oregon should control the line, as long as they can deal with the noise adequately. Tennessee has handled the spread very well last season, and they won't be a pushover.

This game will be a great test for the Ducks, and should really help set the expectations for the rest of the season. If the Ducks can move the ball and score like they have in seasons past, this could be an exciting year. It could also be the start of offensive problems for the Ducks.