Tennessee (2-0) at No. 2 Oregon (2-0)
Saturday, 3:30 PM EST, ABC
Line: Oregon -25.5
As bad as Tennessee has been recently, this is the third straight year that they've won two straight to start the season. The last time they didn't open the year 2-0 was in 2010 when they lost to Oregon 48-13 at home. Fast forward three years later and the Vols have perhaps the toughest match-up this week as they head out to Autzen to face the Ducks.
In week one, the Vols rolled against Austin Peay. In week two, they struggled a bit early with Bobby Petrino and WKU until the Hilltoppers turned the ball over five times in just six plays. Was it the defense or the inept offense? It was a little of both. The concern for Tennessee is that despite winning by 32, they actually had less total offense then the Hilltoppers.
If you watched the Oregon/Virginia game last week it could really be summed up in one play. In the first quarter, QB Marcus Mariota took the ball and raced 71 yards down the field untouched. Oregon's offense comes at you in so many ways it's hard to figure out where you need to focus and that's going to be a big problem for Tennessee.
For Oregon to win: Do what they do. Tennessee has made strides early in Butch Jones's tenure but DC John Jancek and crew aren't ready for all of the athletes and offense that Oregon is going to throw at them. For Oregon to win, they just need to execute the way they normally do and don't force anything.
For Tennessee to win: Essentially the Vols have to play a perfect game. The offense needs to control the ball by pounding the rock with Marlin Lane Jr and Rajion Neal. They need to convert third downs. And the defense needs to make the Ducks offense sustain long drives and not give up the big play. Winning the turnover battle wouldn't hurt either.
Key Player (Oregon): I mentioned him earlier but it's QB Marcus Mariota. On Saturday I heard an announcer call him a Heisman "dark horse". There is nothing "dark horse" about Marcus Mariota, he's a legit Heisman candidate and a player that can did it all on the field. Did I mention that he's averaging 26.1 ypc on 9 runs this season? Against Nicholls State (I know…I know) and Virginia he has scored every third time he has tucked it and ran (9 carries, 3 rushing TDs). He's a true dual threat and Tennessee has to be prepared to try and contain him while respecting his arm.
Key Players (Tennessee): The pressure is going to be on the Vols defense. A.J. Johnson, LaDarrell McNeil, Brian Randolph, Byron Moore, Justin Coleman and the gang are going to need to play the game of their lives. It's hard to single out just one person on this unit but it's really the secondary and LBs that are going to need to be physical with the Ducks and they are going to need to limit big plays from Mariota and the Ducks and make them earn every yard.
Key Stats: Through two games, Oregon leads the Nation with 23 plays of 20 or more yards (14 rushes, 9 passes). Thanks to Bobby Petrino and WKU, Tennessee is tied for the lead in the Nation (with Tulane?) with 9 takeaways.