published Monday, September 9th, 2013

Tennessee Vols winning, but still need work

Tennessee is off to a 2-0 start this season, but the competition will get tougher this week when the Vols take on No. 3 Oregon.
Tennessee is off to a 2-0 start this season, but the competition will get tougher this week when the Vols take on No. 3 Oregon.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

QUACK ATTACK

Chip Kelly will coach his first NFL game tonight when his Philadelphia Eagles visit the Washington Redskins, but the coach's fingerprints remain all over the Oregon offense Tennessee will face in Eugene on Saturday. The Ducks led the nation in scoring last season and have overpowered Nicholls State and Virginia so far this season under new coach Mark Helfrich. Oregon's lightning-quick offense has put up gaudy numbers through two games.

Statistic // Nicholls State // Virginia

Points // 66 // 59

Total yards // 772 // 557

Rushing yards // 500 // 350

Yards per play // 10.9 // 8.1

Time of possession // 19:46 // 21:25

Plays of 20-plus yards // 12 // 11

Scoring drives of more than 2:00 // 1 // 1

KNOXVILLE — When it wasn't forcing turnovers or taking advantage of Western Kentucky's offensive meltdown on Saturday afternoon, Tennessee's defense looked a little bit like it did a season ago.

Open receivers here, gaping holes for running backs there.

The Volunteers allowed 375 yards of offense through three quarters, but in addition to the seven turnovers they forced, they also held the Hilltoppers to only six points on four drives deep into scoring territory.

Tennessee bent, but didn't break, forcing two field goals and intercepting two passes in the end zone in the 52-20 win.

"We're going to have be resilient," first-year coach Butch Jones said after the game. "We play good teams. Somebody said this is the most challenging schedule in the history of college football. They're on scholarship, they're coached, they're well-coached -- they're going to make plays.

"It's the resiliency. It's the snap-and-clear mentality. It's the edge of playing winning football, that confidence. You're going to give up a big play. Now how do you respond? Do you have a snap-and-clear mentality? Let it go, because it's going to happen.

"That's what I wanted to see from our football team today. Great teaching point, and I thought for the most part we handled some of the adversity well."

With second-ranked Oregon's explosive offense on deck in five days, the Vols (2-0) can expect to face adversity, but at least now they know they can handle some of it.

The Ducks, the nation's top-scoring offense last season, lead the nation with a whopping 23 plays of 20 or more yards, including a dozen that have gone for 30 or more, through their first two games.

"At the end of the half, we got a punt blocked, and [Western Kentucky] came back and made it a two-touchdown game," safety Brian Randolph said. "They were coming back strong, so we tried to keep it up and we poured it on in the second half. We didn't let down.

"It was very different. I remember last year during the Florida game I could feel the tide turning, and it felt somehow there's nothing we could do about it. This year it feels different."

On its opening possession, Western Kentucky converted twice on third down and had a first-and-10 on Tennessee's 17. Good coverage on first down forced a batted pass to fall in the hands of a 'Topper offensive lineman, and linebacker A.J. Johnson's tackle for loss preceded a third-down play where pressure forced an incompletion.

The Hilltoppers converted a third-and-15 and hit a 33-yard pass to tight end Mitchell Henry to set up a first-and-goal at the Vols' 10 in the third quarter, but after quarterback Brandon Doughty misfired on a first-down pass, Tennessee defended a play-action rollout pass well before Jordan Williams' sack forced a field goal.

"I feel like we needed a game like this with a little bit of adversity toward the middle there, because we came back," Williams said. "We needed just that feeling. Next week's going to be high-tempo.

"We always practice to make the game feel easy, so I bet the week's going to be pretty tough."

After a 43-yard pass to tailback Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky drove to Tennessee's 1-yard line in the second quarter, but Williams and Trevarris Saulsberry combined to sack Doughty on second down after he held the ball too long.

On third down, Doughty didn't see Randolph and threw an interception right to him.

"I feel like we have a lot of mistakes we could get better at, especially getting off the field on third down," Randolph said.

"We have a lot to work on, but it was good to see us not give up."

In the third quarter, Andrews ran the 'Toppers down the field with gains of 47, 11 and 12 yards. Western Kentucky reached Tennessee's 5 before a holding penalty forced a third-and-long situation, on which Randolph intercepted Doughty's poor throw into the back of the end zone.

In 2012, Tennessee allowed 43 scores (27 touchdowns, 16 field goals) on 47 red-zone trips for opposing offenses, but the Vols allowed just two touchdowns on eight red-zone trips by Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, and one of those came on the Hilltoppers' 8-yard drive following the blocked punt.

That efficiency figures to be tested over the next six games with five ranked teams on the docket.

"We needed to be 2-0," Jones said. "That's a really, really good football team, and we knew we were going to be challenged. They came in and they drive the ball to start the game, and we needed some of that. I needed to see how our leadership would respond.

"I needed to see what type of resiliency this football team has, and I saw some today."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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