Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meet the Volunteers--Offense

Neyland Stadium is the 3rd largest in the country with a capacity of 102,459. It’s a natural grass field. The Vols run a pro style offense and are coached by Derek Dooley, son of Georgia legend Vince. Dooley, a long term assistant for Nick Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins, was just 4-8 last season at Louisiana Tech, 17-20 overall as a head coach.

He takes over from Lane Kiffin who departed after one year and left a host of problems, including former Oregon recruit Bryce Brown. Last spring Brown was a no-show at practice, then informed his new coach of his decision to quit the program via text. The Vol faithful saw Dooley as the anti-Kiffin, Southern born and bred, a more natural fit for the rich Tennessee and SEC football tradition.

It’s the first meeting between the two schools, broadcast nationally on ESPN 2 at 4 p.m. Pacific. While the Volunteers will be up for a night game and home contest before a 100,000 on national tv, they will also be challenged to focus: they host hated rival Florida next week, a much bigger game than this one in SEC country.

The Vols are also breaking in a new starter at quarterback, junior college transfer Matt Simms, son of former Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms, and brother of Chris Simms, the former Texas star who once met the Ducks in the 2001 Holiday Bowl (the one where Joey Harrington caught the touchdown pass from Keenan Howry.) Chris Simms was recently cut from the Tennessee Titans along with LeGarrette Blount. More ubiquitous than Kevin Bacon, you are never more than two degrees of separation from a Duck. Oregon connections abound.

The younger Simms is listed 6' 3" and 217 lbs, and transferred in January from El Camino Community College. He began his collegiate career at Louisville, transferring out when he lost his bid to be the starter there in 2008.

Simms had an easy time of it in the opener, 14-24 for 181 yards and a touchdown against UT Martin. The Volunteers' starter, who won the job in spring football over Tyler Bray, led early and never trailed. UT got big plays in the running game and Simms had lots of time to throw, never sacked and rarely pressured.

Duck tracks: Against a signal caller who is tall, thin and untested, and used to having things go his way as a quarterback born to the position, expect Oregon to pressure Simms and try to make him uncomfortable in the pocket.

Brandon Bair, Kenny Rowe and blitzers like Eddie Pleasant and Josh Kaddu need to have big games and disrupt the passing game. Batted passes may be harder to come by as Simms has a nice over-the-top motion and a high release point.

The Vols were hit by injuries in their opening 50-0 romp over University of Tennessee Martin. Leading returning wide receiver Gerald Jones broke a bone in his hand and is reportedly out two games. Second leading receiver Denarius Moore, a senior, tweaked an ankle and is listed as questionable, as is starting guard Jarrod Shaw. Shaw was UT's only returning senior on the offensive line, a unit on which they already had four first-time starters.

Moore had a 58 yard run and 42 yard td pass versus UT Martin. Jones led all receivers with 6 catches for 86 yards. In their place, two true freshman are slated to start at wideout against the Ducks, Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. Rogers was a five-star recruit from Calhoun, Georgia who set a state record with 1,641 receiving yards as a prep senior in 2009. He was voted "top athlete" at the Under Amour All-America Game by Gifted physically, Rogers is 6'3" with a 41-inch vertical leap. Hunter, from Virginia Beach, Virgina, is 6'4", number 75 on Rivals' top 100 last season as a recruit. He's a tremendous athlete, a former Virginia state champion in both the long jump and high jump his junior year. He has top marks of high jump 7'2," long jump 25-3.75 and triple jump 49-5.

Duck Tracks: Despite their youth, these two could present matchup problems for the Ducks, particularly at the goal line.

The two have been compared to All-Americans Calvin Johnson and Dwayne Jarrett, and the Ducks don't want them to have a splashy coming out party at their expense.

Talmadge Jackson, who tends to turns his back to the ball in coverage, will be particularly vulnerable to fade routes and deliberate underthrows up the sideline. Shorter dbs like Cliff Harris, Jackson and Scott Grady will have to play very tough to neutralize this height advantage. They must be ball-aware and work for leverage.

Tennessee is talented but inexperienced all over on offense, but they have an all-SEC tight end in junior Luke Stocker, a big (6-6 253), reliable target in the middle. He caught 29 balls as a junior, five for TDs, including five for 78 yards and a touchdown in the regular season's final game at Kentucky.

Duck Tracks: New quarterbacks love to find the tight end over the middle, and Stocker is a significant upgrade from the challenge presented by New Mexico for the Oregon defense.

Although he had just two catches for 17 yards in the opener, with the two leading receivers out, look for Simms to try to find Stocker more often in this one. The Duck linebackers must be aware of him in their drops, and Eddie Pleasant has to be up to the task of shadowing a veteran tight end in a critical road game. He'll meet some others as the season progresses. With Pleasant new at the rover/strong safety position, look for the Volunteers to try to test his coverage skills with seam routes in the 30-yard range.

The Vols are also starting over at running back after Bryce Brown's defection and 1300-yard rusher Montario Hardesty's completion of his eligibility. Their two leading returnees had just 33 total carries last season, but promising debuts against UT-Martin. Junior Tauren Poole ran just 10 times in '09, for 86 yards, 62 of it in one game against Western Kentucky. He tore up minor league competition again last week, running for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the 2010 opener. The other half of the tailback tandem, David Oku, sprinted for 6 carries and 77 yards against the Skyhawks. Oku is also the Vols best kick returner, posting a 26.2 yard average last season, sixth in the conference. Rivals rated him the number one all-purpose back in his class coming out of high school.

Duck Tracks: Tennessee has talent and impressive recruiting resumes on offense, but a severe shortage of experience. The Oregon defense must not let them find their rhythm and build on the confidence they gained last week.

The Duck defenders must not let their thinking be clouded by 1) the hostile environment or 2) how easy it was last week against the Lobos. They must seize initiative early, fill the holes, be in position, pursue and make tackles.

Last Saturday Tennessee's offense stagnated in the second quarter with three straight three and outs, and only a series of big plays broke the game open. If Oregon eliminates those explosion plays and makes the Volunteers' offense work for it, they could frustrate them and take the crowd out of the football game.

The relentless pursuit and sure tackling they displayed in the season opener could establish them as a nickname-worthy defense, if the Ducks back up a dominant performance in game one with the same relentlessness and tenacity in game two. It would tickle Oregon fans to see them bring some SEC-style defense to Neyland stadium. The country would note the role reversal, and it would be a huge boost to the image of the PAC-10, which suffered last week with a relatively poor showing in intersectional games.

The linebackers in particular must be active and effective, win those one-on-one matchups with Poole, Oku and Stocker. Oregon's defensive line must assert itself against the inexperienced Tennessee offensive line. Look for penetration by Rowe, Bair and Heimuli, blowing up the run and getting in Simms' face early and often.


  1. Is it pretty much just me, or does anyone else think this is going to be a very tough game?

    I think the Vols have good talent, rabid fans, smart young coach, good team speed and a natural grass field that I bet will be nice and long to slow down some of our speed.

    We have a young QB and fairly inexperienced receiving corps.

    This game will be a great test of our toughness and ability to fly across 3 time zones into a very hostile stadium against a quality team from a BCS conference.

    But we're up to it! My Ducks will give TN the fight of their lives.

  2. Tennessee won't grow their grass long to slow the Ducks down...they aren't Notre Dame.

    Tennessee is very nearly if not equally as fast as Oregon, so it would make no sense to slow themselves down. Oregon fans seem to be a pretty knowledgeable bunch, but also seem to think that a fast team is something new to isn't.

    Every year they play teams as fast and faster than Oregon (Florida, alabama (yes, notice the non=capitalized a), while the tempo of the offense will be new and unique, the on the field speed will be less than shocking to a team who has faced this year in and year out...

  3. FWIW, TN played UT Martin last week, not Martinsville.

  4. This is a good article but come on there are too many errors...

    who is Lou Saban? did you mean Nick Saban?

    Who is Lane Kiffen? Shouldn't this be Lane Kiffin?

    There are a few other errors I won't state but come on where is the proof reader?

  5. Nice Article. Agree with most of the points. One point missing however is our defense. Heres Hoping Wilcox can repeat his Duck and spread domination. We look forward to it! Should be a good game.
    Go Vols!

  6. Aside from a little fact checking, I think this is a pretty well written article. I expect this game to be a lot closer than the 13.5 pt spread that it opened up at. Good post, and Go Vols!

  7. corrections:

    matt sims is about 6'3" and 190 lbs.

    tennessee played ut-martin as in the university of tennessee-martin, not martinsville.

  8. Nice article, but Simms is 6'3" and 217 lbs. Tyler Bray, the backup QB is 6'6" and 210 lbs, and it was UT at Martin, not Martinsville. I hate to nitpick, but otherwise great article.

  9. Thanks for the comments. You guys may get a 15-yard penalty for piling on. Lou Saban is Nick Saban's father; I just got mixed up. Matt Simms is in fact LISTED on the official UT roster as 6-6 210. I recognized program heights are inflated, but it's fair to assume they're uniformly inflated and thus relatively instructive. Let's agree he's tall and thin. Charles Barkley wasn't 6-6 but he was still The Round Mound of Rebound.

    The Kiffin/Kiffen error was corrected by the time you pointed it out.

    Martin/Martinsville: the SEC schools play so many minor FBS and directional creampuffs it's hard to keep them all straight. But I appreciate you keeping me updated.

  10. Not to pile on, but they are all FCS, not FBS.

  11. Good article Dale...enjoyed it. Looking forward to hosting your team down here in God's Country! GO VOLS!

  12. Thanks again you folks for the updates and corrections. I am a staff of one working in my spare time for no money, and we are learning as we go. I'll try to reduce the errors in the future. It's a challenge to get the posts up and improve the writing around work and family life; I research articles from as many sources as I can and sometimes they don't agree on things like heights and weights.

    I appreciate you all for reading and commenting, and incorporated your corrections where appropriate.


  13. I am VERY worried about this game and see us getting routed. Tennessee will have a hay day throwing and passing all over us. I hope our Offense can score because this is going to be a shootout. Barner and James will get shut down and we will be forced to throw. Please dont take the Vols softly!

  14. And UTM was the first FCS opponent TN has played in over 15 yrs.

  15. Not a bad write-up... Good job. For the most part, you seem to have a decent grasp of the competition and some of the key factors to the game.

    I'm curious to know which roster you are using for Simms. (the official site for UT athletics), VolQuest (Rivals), (Scout), and (ESPN) all list Simms at 6'3", and all but VolQuest list him at 217 lbs.

  16. Nice article, actually not demeaning to Tennessee. One quick comment- UT-Martin is the first FCS school played by TN in about a dozen years I think. They play more quality out of conference opponents than any BCS team in the nation. Just look back over their history.

  17. I really appreciate the passion and courtesy of the Tennessee fans who are visiting. Y'all have made your points with cordiality and I truly appreciate that.

    Program heights are very tricky. I think the first article I read listed Simms as that tall and I went with it. I certainly will be more careful in the future and I've edited the article accordingly.

    Wasn't meaning to unfairly characterize UT's football tradition or scheduling, but you have to agree the SEC in general has a DEPLORABLE track record in out of conference scheduling, particular Florida and Alabama. Last year they played eight conference games and four nobodies, and that's embarrassing.


  18. I think Tennessee will be ready for the spread (Wilcox is D cord). All those thinking that you just need to show up to win need to take a look at the last time an over confident Pac 10 team cam to UT. Cal did and the result was a loss. I'm not saying it's not a win. I am saying be ready for a fight, UT will not lay down. Pro style offense have given you two of your last three losses. Stan and OSU. Just be ready for a game, no need to make plans for a national championship just yet. Be ready to be physical, be ready to fight and be ready for a game.

  19. solid post, minor errors notwithstanding.

    more rational than I would expect from a UT blogger.

    one thing that was concering was actually the lack of a consistent running game and pass protection. we had big runs, but there was a stretch where we would get 2 yards here and there.

    and simms was pressured far more than I was expecting from a a UTM defense.

    this game hinges on the experience on the lines, and we are just not ready for a top 10 team.

  20. Lou Saban is not Nick Saban' father either.

  21. to Dale Newton

    I realize the association with the SEC for scheduling a weak out of conference schedule. Let me just say, Tennessee has been a proud exception and should not be lumped with the rest of the conference. Since 2000 we have had series with Notre Dame, Miami (when they were great!), California, and UCLA. In the coming years we have series scheduled with Oregon, Oklahoma, USC, and Cinci. Now on top of that we play Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama every year. We also play Auburn or LSU on any given year. UT Martin was also the first FBS Opponent Tennessee has played since the early 90's. Last year, two of our opponents were ranked number one when we played them. I realize I see things through orange-tinted glasses, but I think I have backed up my claim.

  22. Nice article Dale. I'll be sure to visit your blog again after the game to read what you have to say.

    Go Vols!!!

  23. Anon--

    You absolutely have, and I appreciate your informative comment.


  24. Dale can you make a fearless prediction?

  25. It's great to chat with the Tennesse fans, and again I appreciate your visiting The Ducks Stops Here. I expect a hard-fought game between two fast, talented teams, and I hope the Ducks are ready and play their best.

    Tennessee has a tremendous tradition, a daunting home field advantage, and great talent and desire. Clearly they are on the right track with Coach Dooley. Oregon fans would be foolish to take them lightly, and I believe most are very concerned about this game.

    Victory has to be earned. I wish you all good luck. Enjoy the week of anticipation, and I hope the game lives up to its billing.


  26. As a Tennessee fan, just thought I'd say great writeup, couldn't have been done much better from one of our own. Pretty much hit the nail on the head on all your points. I do think Oregon wins this one due to our lack of experience, but nonetheless, Go Rocky Top!

  27. I usually make a prediction on Thursday, after I've had a chance to look at the opponent and practice reports. The predictions are never fearless. I'm a nervous fan who tends to chew couch pillows and the towels my wife just folded during games.

    The line is 13.5, and if I were a betting man (I'm not) I don't think I'd want to give that many. I expect a hard-fought game. You can't go to an environment like this and expect it to be like New Mexico. This will be a much sterner test for both teams, and go a long way toward determining the nature of their seasons.


  28. Very nice article Dale. I enjoyed your analysis and commentary.

    Are you coming to the game? If you are, don't miss some of our traditions like the Vol Navy near the stadium (just look for the 200+ cruisers, houseboats, and runabouts) and the Vol walk.

    Go VOLS!!!

  29. good article i like Oregon but i love my vols what ever happens i hope and pray you beat the crap out of usc

  30. Nice work dale. Good luck to all the duck fans. Hope you have a great time in big orange country.This will be an awesome game. Go vols !

  31. nice writing skills there homer
    have a nice trip to knoxville to all those that dare
    I will be waiting wishing you the best of times sans the outcome of the game(all that really matters)
    your conference pals cal came to town riding high on the hog so to speak
    and left town wondering how SEC teams do it every week
    no wonder we scheduled UT-martin
    as far as the home loss to ucla goes
    ask lane when you guys meet up how bad he fucked the playcalling up there
    anyway enjoy the pac-10 championship and the lambasting of another sub-par big wtf ever team
    your humble friend
    cousin motherfuckin eddie

  32. Good work an GOOOOOO VOLS!!! See you in K-Town!

  33. How exactly does the SEC do a deplorable job of scheduling opponents? Didn't Oregon play a New Mexico team last week that went 1-11 last year? Tennessee played a home and home with Cal just a few years ago. We just did a home and home with UCLA. We have Oregon on the schedule this year. Alabama plays Penn State this weekend and LSU just played UNC. These are just a few of many tough ooc games.

  34. nice article. i'm a vols fan, but the more i hear about the ducks, the more i like them. good luck to both teams saturday night!

  35. Thanks for your comments.

    I'm not attending the game but I'll be glued to the telecast. After visiting with you folks here on the website I wish I was flying over.

    The schedule comment was more of a jibe than serious analysis. But I really don't think Alabama and Florida played anybody out of conference last year; I'll look it after I get off work (I write the blog from my kitchen table; my wife gets frustrated with me for how much time I spend on it. Takes me two hours to correct my errors and typos :). )

    Regardless of what we think about anyone's scheduling, I think we can agree that this is a test for both schools.

    Part of the problem with scheduling is that schedules are arranged 3-5 years in advance, and teams go through cycles of good and great and bad. Oregon was 5-7 a few years ago. New Mexico made a bowl five years of seven under Rocky Long. The Vols won a national championship in the '90s, but over the last couple of years they've been rebuilding. So the quality of a matchup changes.

    If I were elected king of college football for a day I would decree that every team schedule one tuneup, one challenging intersectional test, and one middling opponent at its own level, then play nine games in conference. Of course the SEC has a conference championship game, and that's another hurdle to clear that we don't yet have out here.

    Best wishes and thanks for contributing,


  36. Thanks for a good article - I don't know that we can keep that Oregon offense off the field, and that would make for a long day for the Orange. I hope the Oregon fans will enjoy their visit to East Tennessee. We will be hospitable. We are already looking forward to our trip out there in 2013, and to combining the football with a side trip to Bandon Dunes for a little golf.

  37. Dale,
    I think your articles have been some of the best I have read on Keep it up and don't let the spell checkers get to you. I can only imagine how my wife would be if I did what you are doing and can understand what you are going through.
    IMO if the Ducks do not turn the ball over they should cover the spread easy. There has been some talk about the humidity and how it may take a toll on the Ducks. I think it will and the Ducks will use the rotation of players to combat it. The humidity will take a toll on TN also when the Ducks are going as fast as they do on offense. It sounds like TN does not have the depth to run at the pace of the Ducks. I think TN will try to slow the game down and that could lead to 3 and outs by the TN offense. Go Ducks!

  38. Good article. Your article made it over to the forums of thus all the comments and reads from us Vol fans.

    I am hoping for the best, but the Ducks have more experience and are a very well coached team. I don't think the PAC 10 gets enough credit from us SEC homers, but this vol fan respects the conference (minus Kiffin at USC) and know it will be almost impossible to pull off this upset.

    I have been very impressed with our new coach and I believe we are on the right path. I also believe our starters are extremely talented, just a little inexperienced. Our depth is our problem and the tempo the ducks will try to dictate will be very problematic if our offense cannot control the clock.

    best wishes to your ducks the rest of the season and good job on your blog.