Saturday afternoon in the land of Nike known as the house of the Oregon Ducks, the Vols find themselves huge underdogs against the nation's second ranked team. The Vols fresh off a their seven turnover 52-20 win over Western Kentucky, entire the land of big time college football in a national stage. The biggest challenge for the Vols lies in trying to slow down a Duck offense that's amassed 125 points in two games. And they are amassing them in a hurry. Of Oregon's 17 scoring drives, 15 lasted two minutes or less. Oregon's explosiveness makes a lot of things key to the Vols. Tackling is at a premium particularly in the open field. Getting off the field on third down is huge for John Jancek's unit. Offensively winning third down and staying on the field with extended drives is huge for the Vols hopes.
Offensively, Tennessee didn't convert a third down in the first half. In the second they went 4 for 5 on third down.
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Head coach Butch Jones has called Oregon the most complete team in football that he has seen at this point.
"As we all know, going to play the number two team in the country, they're 31-3 at home in the last five years, four consecutive BCS bowl games, and they're as good as advertised. Probably the most complete team I've seen in a number of years to date. Team speed, everything that you think of when you think of Oregon comes to your mind. A very, very athletic quarterback that can throw the football, make plays with his legs. Great team speed on the perimeter, great running back, physical offensive line. Defensively, very, very physical, very skilled in the secondary, and then where you really notice it is in the special teams. Our special teams game, just from a speed standpoint alone, is going to be challenged this week.
For the Vols offensively it's about being in rhythm and staying on the field something they couldn't do a week ago and defensively limiting big plays is a must. The Ducks have 18 offensive plays this year where they have gained 25 yards or more.
Tennessee's ability to play defense in open space is a huge match-up in this game. The Vol defense has to tackle well and they have to handle Oregon's athletic speed and their offensive speed play to play.
Safety Brian Randolph said the Ducks are not complicated. They just want to get you tired out of place and causing you to panic.
"We have to communicate," Randolph said. "If we see someone wide eyed out there we have to talk to them and get them back to earth and not make things bigger than what they are.
"There's not too many complicated routes. They are just trying to hurry you up and keep you in the same coverage. The routes aren't anything we haven't seen before. Tempo is the primary thing."
Playing in open space is certainly a challenge for anyone facing Oregon. Its a challenge that Randolph feels they are more equipped to handle this year compared to last.
"I think there is a big difference this year with everyone running to the ball," Randolph said. "That kind of limites the open field that we get. Even if we happen to miss a tackle we know that there is going to be someone there to pick us up."
For a closer look at the rest of the match-up's, check out How they match-up from Rob Lewis.
Points off turnovers are always big in games. When you are trying to pull an upset, it's even more important. Tennessee has been feasting off their turnovers. The Vols scored 37 points last week off Western Kentucky miscues. The week before against Austin Peay they scored 7. In 9 turnovers gained, the Vols have put 44 points on the board off those turnovers.
MAXIM THAT MATTERS
Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.
It's been Jones' challenge to this team since he arrived back in December. It was his message in winter workouts, spring practice and it's been his message since the start of fall camp. It's why you keep hearing about 63 in terms of 3 strains or great efforts in one six second play.
Oregon is going to make plays. They are going to score. The challenge for Tennessee is to get the game into the second half. Create doubt with the Ducks who are not overly concerned with the Vols as nearly four touchdown favorites.
When you are an underdog, pulling an upset requires many things. But none of those things matter if the effort is not where it has to be for the entire game. It's what bothered Jones the most leaving the practice field on Tuesday.
"I just think it's a lifestyle that you have to live each and every day," Jones said of his team's mental toughness on Tuesday. "Are we better than we were in spring football? Yes. Are we better now than when we started training camp? Yes. But we're not anywhere where we need to be, and playing the schedule and the demands that we have, it's going to take great resiliency, leadership and a toughness about yourself. Thick skin. Playing one snap at a time.