By Frank Gale
The Vols have done exactly what they needed to do in the first two games of the season — win convincingly against inferior opponents. That might not sound like a great accomplishment, but after seeing teams in recent years struggle at times in these types of games, it was a welcome relief.
Now, the next challenge is a huge step for this fledgling team. They not only play their first road game under Butch Jones. They will do it on the west coast against the number two team in the country, Oregon.
That would be the same Oregon Ducks that last week played on the east coast in the heat and humidity at the University of Virginia. It certainly did not affect them adversely, posting 557 yards of total offense and winning 59-10.
Now, the monumental task for team No. 117 and their coaches will be to execute a game plan that keeps this game close and gives the Vols a chance at an upset. Tennessee certainly expected to have a deeper team to make this initial trip into “Duck Land."
The Vol Nation is trying to remain optimistic, while Coach Butch Jones is embracing the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country on a big stage. You have to love this positive attitude.
The defense showed why they will be a much improved unit in 2013 when they forced seven turnovers in last week’s game. Safety Brian Randolph intercepted two passes in the endzone and was named the SEC Defensive SEC Player of the Week. The last Vol defensive back to achieve that honor was Eric Berry in 2008 for his play against Vanderbilt.
This week the Vols will be tested in all phases of the game with the size and speed of Oregon. They will learn more in this contest than their first two games combined. Coach Jones wants his team to learn to deal with adversity and sudden change on the field. Given Oregon’s home record of 31-3 over the past five years, Coach Jones might get a whole season’s worth of adversity in one game!
We have all heard about quarterback Marcus Mariota who leads the Ducks' high scoring offense. Slowing down this offense is only one part of the blue print for an upset. The Vol offense must sustain long time consuming drives to rest their defense and limit the possessions for the Duck offense tomorrow. Justin Worley can not afford another slow start this week and must have a mistake free game for the Vols to stay with the high scoring Ducks.
Then the speed on special teams is enough to have Vol coaches seeing those crazy green uniforms running uncontested in their dreams. Be sure and catch the action tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. CDT on ABC.
An unwanted distraction is the still evolving story by Yahoo Sports about money payments to current Vol Maurice “Mo” Couch and former quarterback Tyler Bray. Couch’s eligibility this season could be in jeopardy, just what Butch Jones needs with defensive lineman already at a premium this season. The return of Jacques Smith will add to the depth if Couch is held out tomorrow.
Tennessee posted program victory number 801 last week. They are one of eight collegiate programs to pass the 800 milestone. (No, Jim Butler, Vandy is not one of those other seven). This week they will try to do the impossible and make it 802. It will take a tremendous effort from the team from Rocky Top to emerge with a victory, but with the same attitude as their head coach, who knows. Stranger things have happened. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)