published Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Wiedmer: Tennessee Vols don’t intend to duck for cover

  • photo
    Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley (14) passes against coverage from Western Kentucky defensive lineman James Hervey (92).
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — The potential for brightness bordering on blindness if Oregon opts for its day-glow yellow uniforms Saturday doesn’t overly concern Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley.

The sun’s reflection off the Ducks’ glistening silver helmets is another matter, however.

“Honestly, Western Kentucky wore some pretty bright helmets, too,” Worley said of last Saturday’s opponent, which the Vols dispatched 52-20. “I was a little worried how the sun would reflect off them. But it wasn’t too bad.”

Yet neither is WKU to be confused with Nike U., oops, Oregon.

Nor is it just because the Ducks seem to have more changes of feathers than Lady Gaga has Twitter followers (40 million and counting).

Yes, the endless combinations of neon yellow, green, black, gray and white can produce headaches and dizziness for all who face them. In fact, you wonder sometimes why the NCAA hasn’t put a cap on free unis, the way it does an off-campus meal for a recruit, though that would also force it to rein in Nike, something it’s unlikely to do, given the advertising money the shoe giant spends on NCAA events.

Still, it’s the jocks inside those socks and shoes and helmets who most have the attention of UT coach Butch Jones and Team 117.

“Pace and space,” Jones said more than once during Monday’s media luncheon in reference to the Ducks’ offensive mindset. “They’re going to make big plays. It’s about not letting one big play become two, three or four big plays.”

The numbers don’t lie. No. 2 Oregon is averaging 62.5 points and 664.5 yards on offense. A lot of teams haven’t reached those totals in two games. Beyond that, all those fancy uniforms and the new $68 million training complex that includes Italian marble in the showers, a barbershop and a cafeteria have made Nike U. “the cool school,” according to ESPN recruiting guru Tom Luginbill.

Or as Jones observed, “They’ve been on the cutting edge of college football for a long time.”

To cut them down, UT’s Jacob Carter — the junior wideout and return man from Nashville who’ll take over for the injured Devrin Young — believes the Volunteers offense must even think defensively: “As an offense, we’ve got to stay on the field for a while. We can’t go three-and-out.”

But dealing with the Ducks’ talent isn’t all that UT must conquer this weekend in Eugene. Only five Vols hail from west of the Mississippi River.

“Most of us have never been that far from home,” Carter said. “And there’s the time change. I’ve been to Texas and Mexico, but I’ve never been to the West Coast.”

Yet much as he seems unperturbed about the Oregon threads, Worley seems almost excited to hit the road after two weeks inside Neyland Stadium.

“Home games are great, but there’s something about away games,” he said. “You’re in your own little world. There’s a lot less distractions. It makes you a little tighter [as a team].”

If you are a Big Orange fan this morning, you look at a Las Vegas betting line that already has the Ducks anywhere from 26- to 28-point favorites and wonder how this can become anything but a similar spanking to the 48-13 whipping Oregon put on the Vols inside Neyland three years ago, when the Ducks went all the way to the BCS title game before losing to Auburn.

And Jones certainly isn’t downplaying Oregon’s ability to at least repeat that season this time around.

“This is probably the most complete Oregon team I’ve seen in a number of years,” he said. “The speed level is going to be different.”

Yet the Vols’ first-year coach seemed far from resigned to a certain loss, however alone he and his team may be in that assessment.

“It’s easier to slow [the game] down than to speed up,” he said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to win the football game.”

Whether it begins Saturday or somewhere down the road, you get the feeling that Oregon’s shiny helmets aside, when it comes to coaching, Tennessee could well have the brighter future of the two schools.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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