published Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Tennessee Vols are very familiar with Oregon's aura

Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas (6), streaking   for a touchdown against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl last January, is one of the many speed threats the Tennessee Vols will face this Saturday in Eugene, Ore.
Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas (6), streaking for a touchdown against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl last January, is one of the many speed threats the Tennessee Vols will face this Saturday in Eugene, Ore.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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  • photo
    Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley looks to pass against Vanderbilt in 2012.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Three time zones and more than 2,500 miles separate the football stadiums on the campuses of Tennessee and Oregon.

The familiarity, at least from the Volunteers' end, is much greater than that.

When Tennessee ventures out West for Saturday's game, its players, many of them making such a trip for the first time, know what to expect from the Ducks.

And the Vols are intrigued by the opportunity to face the nation's second-ranked team.

"They're known for their speed and their athleticism, and they're a really talented football team," kicker Michael Palardy said Monday afternoon, "but you know, it's a good test for us. We're real excited, we're real amped up -- I know Coach [Butch] Jones is, too, and the whole coaching staff -- so we're just kind of ready to go into that environment. None of us have ever been there.

"Personally, I've never been out to the West Coast for anything in my life, so it'll be a different atmosphere, but we're really excited about it."

Tennessee got a close-up of the Ducks' program when Oregon visited Knoxville in 2010 and left with a 48-13 win, and as receiver Jacob Carter said, what's become synonymous with Oregon is "the same for everyone."

The speed. The lightning-fast offensive tempo. The flashy jersey combinations. The Nike stigma. The small-but-noisy Autzen Stadium, with its capacity of 54,000.

"We can't get caught up in saying, 'Oh, we're going out to Oregon -- they're a loud crowd, they're a great team,'" quarterback Justin Worley said. "We can't get caught up in all that. It's a business trip, and we've got to approach it like that.

"But yeah, I'd say we're excited for the opportunity."

Oregon was 21-3 and appeared in BCS bowls in 2000 and 2001 before a three-year stretch when the Ducks posted a 20-17 record. Since then, the Ducks have had just one season when they failed to earn double-digit wins. Since a 7-6 season in 2006, Oregon is 65-14 and has a four-year streak of BCS bowl appearances.

Much of the Ducks' current identity was developed under coach Chip Kelly, who jumped to the NFL to take the Philadelphia Eagles' job in January. In just two games -- routs of Nicholls State and Virginia -- Oregon hardly looks any different under new coach Mark Helfrich, who was Kelly's offensive coordinator.

A bevy of speedy skill players, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota and do-it-all dynamo De'Anthony Thomas, executes perhaps the nation's fastest-paced offense and scores piles of points, and an underrated defense is active and effective.

"The great programs, they win with consistency and continuity," Jones said. "If you look at their coaching staff, they've had that consistency and continuity, so the teaching is the same. Even with Chip leaving, it hasn't changed much."

Jones said Oregon is "as good as advertised" and called it one of the most complete teams he's seen "in a number of years" of coaching.

"When I said a complete football team," he later elaborated, "everyone, when they think of Oregon, they think of offense and they think of skill and they think of fast pace -- but really, they're well-coached, they have an identity and their identity's found in all three phases."

The Vols are well aware of the Ducks' collective identity and what it will take to disrupt it, particularly on defense.

"It's a mindset: They're going to get their plays," Jones said. "They're going to make their big plays. That's a function of what they do. That's part of their offense, but it's not letting one big play equal two, equal three, equal four and have a snowball effect. That's part of that mental conditioning. We have to force them and make them drive the football on us, and that's very challenging.

"You have to look at their body of work this year, but not just this year -- over the last three or four or five years. It's staying the course. It's focusing one snap at a time -- just one snap at a time -- and that's going to be at a premium on Saturday."

Said Palardy: "It's about the guys that are going to be in that locker room with us and just kind of playing for each other.

"They're fun to watch. They're an exciting football team to watch, but so are we. We're excited to go in there and battle it out."

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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