Oregon’s offensive philosophy couldn’t be simpler: The Ducks basically turn each football game into a track meet because they always have the faster athletes.
The Tennessee Vols certainly couldn’t keep pace with the “Quack Attack” in a 48-13 loss at Knoxville in 2010. They’ve incorporated a hurry-up tempo of their own this year, however, and believe they’ve closed the speed gap a bit. They hope to prove as much in Saturday’s rematch at Eugene.
“With us incorporating that same tempo and using it in practice and at camp, I think our team is better prepared for it,” Vol senior Rajion Neal said.
The early returns provide a ray of hope. Playing its version of the fast-paced Quack Attack, Tennessee scored 97 points in its first two games – beating Austin Peay 45-0 and spanking Western Kentucky 52-20.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Neal said, “but the real tests are starting to come. We’re really going to be able to take strides and see where we are.”
Neal was a freshman running back when the Ducks dominated the Vols in 2010. He recalls Tennessee jumping to a 6-0 lead before a rain delay stopped play for 70 minutes.
“I remember us coming out with a great sense of energy,” he said. “We were on a pretty good drive and then the rain delay set us back. The tempo was unreal, though.”
Indeed. Down 13-3 in the second quarter, the Ducks kicked their attack into overdrive and scored the game’s final 45 points to win going away.
Defensive end Marlon Walls, another Vol senior who played in that 2010 Oregon game, also remembers the Big Orange giving the Ducks difficulty … for a half.
"I remember how we played them tough … all the way to the third quarter,” he said. “We had our way with them, and somehow – like we've been doing the last few years – we just started losing the edge in the end."
The reason Tennessee lost its edge in the 2010 Oregon game is no secret: The Ducks’ blistering pace wore down the depth-shy Vols. Fatigue was Tennessee’s downfall.
"Yeah, it was,” Walls conceded. “We started off having so much fun in the beginning of the game because we were shutting the offense down, and they had to slow the pace down.”
Oregon’s superior speed and depth proved decisive in the second half as the Ducks broke a 13-all tie by hitting the weary Vols with one big play after another. The landslide started with a 72-yard run and a 76-yard interception return. After a 29-yard touchdown pass, Oregon tacked on an 80-yard punt return. Just like that team, the 2013 Ducks can strike quickly from anywhere on the field.
“I think if we come out and stop the big plays that they are capable of doing,” Walls said, “we will eventually slow that offense down a little bit.”
Stopping big plays hasn’t been a strong suit of the Vol defense this fall, however. Tennessee gave up completions of 35 and 33 yards to Austin Peay of the Football Championship Subdivision and surrendered several more “chunk plays” in Game 2 versus Western Kentucky, enabling the Hilltoppers to climb back into the game after trailing 31-3 early. Oddly enough, the Vols think their lapses versus WKU may have been a blessing.
“We needed a game with a little adversity,” senior defensive lineman Daniel Hood said. “(We needed) to come out and fight, do 12-play drives that are back-to-back-to-back because Oregon moves fast, and they could do 12-play drives in three minutes, so we’re going to have to come ready to play.”
Tennessee built a 42-0 halftime lead in the opener against Austin Peay, then rested its starters. Hood is glad the first-teamers played into the fourth quarter against Western Kentucky in Game 2. They needed the work to prepare for Game 3.
“We didn’t want to only play 18 to 20 snaps because against Oregon there is a chance they could run 100 plays,” he said. “We really needed to come in and play a complete game to build that conditioning up and get ready for (the Ducks).”
It remains to be seen if the Vols are truly ready for Oregon, 2-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally after annihilating Virginia 59-10 on Saturday. The Ducks probably have twice the talent and three times the team speed that Western Kentucky presented. Still, Walls believes the Vols, also 2-0, have the conditioning and stamina to hang with their imposing opponent.
"I was 280-something in the spring and I'm down to about 260-something,” he said. “I think our coaching staff, with that up-tempo offense that we practice against every day, did a great job of getting us in shape.”
Still, one fact cannot be overlooked: The Vols have been playing uptempo football for months. The Ducks have been playing it for years. The pace Tennessee played in Games 1 and 2 was fast by Austin Peay and Western Kentucky standards but it will seem plodding by Oregon standards. Clearly, the Vols need to find a faster gear in practice this week.
“That’s usually pretty normal,” Hood said, “but it’s just heightened even more this week because they (Ducks) have been running that system for a bunch of years.”
Knowing the pace against Oregon will be taxing, the Vols must make practice as taxing as possible this week.
“I know we're going to push it up even more this week,” Walls said. “We're going to really go out there and see how tired we can really get.”
Although they’re a 25-point underdog, the Vols believe their peak effort will give them a chance to win. Walls said it best:
“I’m starting to believe what Coach (Butch) Jones says: The football gods roll with the guys that play hard.”
Especially if those guys also play fast.