Tennessee presents some match up problems, but it doesn't mean the Ducks can't solve them. Their middle linebacker A.J. Johnson is 6-2, 243 and the #1 rated MLB prospect in college football according to nfldraftscout.com. Johnson had 138 tackles last year.
Lining up in front of him is 6-8, 351 pound defensive tackle Daniel McCullers. Positioned sometimes over one of Oregon's guards and sometimes at nose over center Hroniss Grasu in a 4-3/3-4 hybrid defense, McCullers is a beast to move off the ball, and Johnson excels at shedding blocks and getting to the ball carrier.
Out of the tunnel: So far Oregon has revved up like a Harley in the opening two games, establishing dominance with good offensive execution, big plays and early leads. How will the team react if Tennessee gets in some blows early? (Don Ryan, AP photo).
That's important, because Oregon had trouble running inside on Virginia's defense. In all they were 3-10 on first downs and 0-2 on fourth down, most of their success in the game coming on plays they scooted outside, although quarterback Marcus Mariota did have the early 71-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw.
The Vols have studied that play, and they're far less likely to vacate the middle, requiring the Ducks to make another move in the offense/defense chess game.
The formula for beating Oregon hasn't changed since Stanford, Ohio State, Boise State and Auburn did it in Chip Kelly's first two years as head coach: disrupt the middle and break the offense's rhythm by playing tough assignment football at the line of scrimmage. Get penetration and blow up the run, Force the Ducks into second and long, third and long situations and upset the quarterback with a mix of coverages and blitzes. Pair that with an offense that can grind out possessions and shorten the game. Whether Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas, or Mariota, the Oregon quarterback can't direct minute and a half touchdown drives from the sideline. The blur offense becomes much less effective when the Inside Zone Read is a pile of nothing and defenders are staying with them on the edge.
Tennessee seems to have the personnel on defense to stay with the Ducks for a quarter or two, but the problem for them is a serious lack of depth. The defensive line took another hit this week when Maurice Couch (6-2, 302) was declared ineligible after allegedly taking money from agent/runner Luther Davis. Couch wasn't a starter, but Oregon's typical fast pace dictates a team needs rotations for the big bodies up front, particularly on a day when the gametime temperature could approach 90 degrees. At 350, McCullers is going to have to be spelled, especially if Oregon succeeds in getting the tempo going.
The tempo is the thing that's hard to withstand. So far 15 of Oregon's 17 touchdown drives have taken less than two minutes. At full throttle they run plays every 15 seconds, and they lead the nation in big plays, with 23 of more than 20 yards, 12 of 30 or more yards. That's a taxing load for any defense, particularly a short-handed, rebuilding one.
The Tennessee defenders insist they're up for the challenge. Cornerback Brian Rudolph told Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, "We haven't had too many missed tackles. We've had a couple here and there, but for the most part I think we're pretty good at tackling. They're pretty good. It's going to be like playing a top-tier SEC team, and I think we're going to be up for the challenge."
The Vols say they're ready for Oregon's speed. Which is the same thing opposing teams have been saying during game week for four years. You're ready until it hits you.
For Butch Jones' squad to have a chance, their game plan will likely feature their twin tailbacks Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane running behind a big offensive line, which averages 6-4 and 310 pounds. The tailback committee has combined for 350 yards and 7 tds over the first two games, easy wins over FCS foe Austin Peay and mid-major Western Kentucky. Tackles Antonio "Tiny" Richardson (6-6, 327) and Ja'Juan James (6-6, 318) provide the push up front, and Oregon's linebackers have to tackle well, avoiding explosion plays like the 45-yard touchdown run Kahlek Sheperd tore off in the first quarter last Saturday.
Tennessee will try to frustrate the Ducks with strings of first downs and keep the game in the 20s. Their ball-hawking defense has nine turnovers in the season's first two games, including two interceptions for touchdowns.
A couple of early mistakes by the Ducks, and a long touchdown drive or two by the Volunteers, and they can make the Autzen crowd uncomfortable. Oregon hasn't faced many close, physical games in the last four years, and the few times it's happened, they've lost, except for a 15-13 escape at Cal in 2010.
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Watching the video of Kentucky State gives me a bit of pause. Not much, but a bit.
In play after play, it is easy to see that KSU does not have players with the speed of DAT, a QB with the skills of Mariota, nor the downfield blocking ability of Oregon's WR corps. I am officially not worried. Thanks for the enlightenment. :-)
I know this is no a terribly sophisticated vision, but here's my take...
We'll gladly match our speed and execution against their size.
On O, threaten every corner and sideline on every play; gaps will form; fatigue and susceptibility to deception should set in before the half.
On D, BBNB (Bend But Not Break) - I think they'll be chasing our higher score/possession rate, so the clock really won't be friendly to them. Therefore, they'll have to have more than a ground game and that's where we'll need them to be. Patience should pay off in the form of a pick or two, or just some broken up passes and taking the punt.
Wild cards; Ball security and penalties
To that list of close big boy physical games I would add Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, which was close through 3 quarters (Ducks down 38-35), but ended well for the Ducks with a 10-0 shutout in the 4th.
Helfrich and Grasu have both commented that with a sketchy scouting 'read' on the Butch Jones' Vols, they have to be ready to adjust after the first couple series. This means, to me, even more schematic options underneath the play by play options. Ducks will not be stumped nor stopped for long, maybe a quarter or two, before they start moving downhill, and the big boys fade. Vols QB is going to get the test of his career. TOs and special teams play will, as usual, be a huge factor. It will not be like that Rose Bowl vs future NFL stars Wilson and Ball.
Concern may turn to worry if the game is somehow slowed down and close into the third Q. But I've seen many a game, esp. in the in the early Kelly years, become a Ducks' jailbreak in the second half. It happens less these days with faster scoring out of the gate and and improved D all game long.
Except for some unfortunate mistakes, it looked to me like WK was moving the ball quite effectively against those big ole hogs. Mix it up a bit (pass and run) and we will be just fine.
What seems to get us, is predictability on our 3rd down. IMHO.
Put a W down for the Ducks.
Go Ducks WTD
P.S....or we could just PANIC
Butch is gonna get smoked. Sad story, but true.
The problem that's hard to understand for Tennessee is the same problem that's hard for any other team in the SEC to understand; Oregon plays hardball, smashmouth football at a frenetic pace. The frenetic pace is what befuddles them, to be sure.. If Tennessee can withstand the pace and respond to the pressure of 60-90 plays over the course of this game, they'll indeed do well. If not, well.. It's not going to go well for the boys from Rocky Top.
The bigger the dog, the faster they run out of steam. It may be close for the first quarter or two but Oregon will take over the game in the second half. 42-17, Oregon wins.
@zduckfan The speed, skill and downfield blocking did prove to be the difference. But as a pregame panic goes, this was the best I could do.
@MaineDuckFan On the contrary, that's a very solid breakdown of the game, the formula Oregon's used for the last four seasons.
@rgyle Good points, Arg. Solid analysis. The Wisconsin game was close and turned on a couple of plays, including Terrance Mitchell's forced fumble on the sideline that stopped dead in bounds, Michael Clay falling on it cleanly rather than having it squirt away from him.
Jones will have a plan for the Ducks, and he's seen enough on film to have something to work with, Oregon's players and coaches have to be ready with adjustments.
@Duckbill The Ducks started out badly in that 2010 game and the lightning was a bolt of good fortune for them. It gave them a chance to settle down and make adjustments.
You're absolutely right that this is the style of team that's given Oregon the most trouble. Be interesting to see whether Frost, Helfrich and Greatwood have answers and adjustments ready.
@hoboduck Good point about Western Kentucky, who actually out gained Tennessee but threw two pick sixes and two picks in the end zone. Difficult for any team to survive those kinds of mistakes.
@zduckfan That's what we'd expect in this game, provided the Ducks can keep Tennessee from controlling the pace. Ducks must avoid turnovers and stop the run, as Hobo and Db suggested.
@duckified Lack of depth on the defensive line will really challenge the Vols as the game goes on, unless they can put together some long drives and slow the game.