Tuesday, September 7, 2010
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 Rivals.com. 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.
Posted by Dale Newton at 12:00 AM