UT cannot ‘Duck’ explosive Oregon offense
Posted: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 4:50 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — If there’s a more explosive offense in the country than Oregon’s, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley hasn’t found it.
He’s well aware that the Volunteers’ defense is in for a true test when the No. 11 Ducks come to town on Saturday.
“Nobody ever stops Oregon,” Dooley said Monday. “You’ve just got to slow them down and try to be sound fundamentally and try to get some breaks here and there, and you’ve got to play well on offense.”
The Tennessee defense was dominant in a 50-0 win over Tennessee-Martin on Saturday stopping runners at the line of scrimmage, snaring two interceptions and keeping UT Martin out of the red zone. The Skyhawks, an FCS team with young, undersized players, also didn’t afford the Vols much of an opportunity to measure their abilities.
The Volunteers will get a much better idea of what kind of defense they have against Oregon’s speedy spread offense led by quarterback Darron Thomas, a threat in both the passing and running game. The Vols also get the first shot of the season at defending LaMichael James, who rushed last season for 1,546 yards but was suspended for the first game because of an offseason harassment charge.
The Ducks showed just how explosive they can be by amassing a school-record 720 yards of offense in a 72-0 win over New Mexico in their home opener.
“This Oregon offense, they can put up some points, and we know that,” Tennessee linebacker Austin Johnson said. “We obviously have to pick up our game a little bit. we know that, and we know that UT Martin isn’t the same caliber as Oregon. We know we’ve got to come out fast, do what we need to do and shut them down.”
Tennessee has been increasingly exposed to the spread offense, especially thanks to its annual meeting with Florida. The Vols finally had some success against the Gators’ speed and misdirection last season, despite losing 23-13.
The Vols will get some help now that they are led on defense by former Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who beat Oregon twice in his four seasons with the Broncos. Wilcox helped shut down the dynamic offense in the 2009 season opener won by Boise State 19-8, the Ducks’ lowest points total of the whole season.
Wilcox also has had a firsthand look at Thomas in Boise State’s 37-32 win in 2008, when the then fifth-string freshman nearly led the Ducks to a come-from-behind victory in that game.
With his experience in the Western Athletic Conference, Wilcox — who played defensive back at Oregon — has seen plenty of spread offenses like Oregon’s, and his defense led the WAC in total defense and scoring defense each of his four seasons at Boise State.
“Coach Wilcox had a great game plan against (the Ducks) last year, so we feel really confident with the game plan we’re coming into,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can shut them down.”
That game plan on the most basic level is to combat speed with speed. The Vols, who watched film on the Ducks during fall camp in August, will try to close gaps quickly on the defensive line as the linebackers and defensive backs hone in on the direction of the ball.
It also means playing with as much as energy and as few mistakes as the Vols did against UT Martin.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re on our toes all the time and keying in on our assignments, and we should be good,” Johnson said.