Tennessee Volunteers running back Raijon Neal runs down the sideline in Vols season opening victory over Austin Peay. (Photo Credit: commercialappeal.com)
Tennessee is 2-0 for the third consecutive season. The significance of that? Their first loss of the 2010 season came in the second game of the year against the team they will line up against on Saturday.
The Vols will travel across the country, 2,542 miles to be exact, to Eugene, Ore. for their first away game of the season to face the No. 2 Oregon Ducks on Saturday, Sept. 14. Kickoff is set for 3:30 EDT, and the game can be found on ABC.
Saturday will be the first real test for Tennessee’s first year head coach Butch Jones, and may answer a lot of questions pertaining to how his team will not only fare this season, but in the future. One of the biggest challenges Jones will face with his team Saturday is making sure they stay mentally tough despite being such big underdogs.
“Obviously they (Oregon) are a great football team,” Jones said of Oregon. “You talked about mental conditioning, that toughness is going to be on display. We’re going to have to be able to withstand without substituting seven, eight, nine plays in a row.”
Both teams run a very up tempo offense, so the conditioning of both teams will be on display. It was questioned whether Jones would try and slow down his offense to keep his team fresh and give the defense a chance to rest.
“We’re going to play our brand of football,” Jones said. “We’ll mix our tempos up but we’re going to do whatever it takes to win the football game and it’s going to take a phenomenal effort but again our kids are very prideful and I know we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
This will be the Vols first trip to the west coast since they lost in back-to-back seasons to California in 2007 and UCLA in 2008, both being season openers. The last time Tennessee defeated a Pac-12 opponent goes all the way back to their 2006 opening win over California, 35-18. Their last win on the west coast goes back almost two decades to 1997 when they beat UCLA 30-24.
The last time these teams met Tennessee gave up 245 yards on the ground, and 447 yards total in a 48-13 rout put on by Oregon in a game that was all Tennessee until the lightning delay that came early in the first half. One of their biggest downfalls was the quarterback play in that game, something that has already appeared shaky for them again this year.
“We can only control what we can control on the offensive side,” Tennessee junior quarterback Justin Worley said of Saturday’s matchup. “We’ve just got to go out and maintain our focus and worry about what we can control and not get caught up in saying `We need to score 50 this game.’ It’s `We need to go out and score this drive.’ That’s it.”
Tennessee has opened as a 26 point underdog going into Saturday’s game. They’re averaging 14 points, 147 rushing yards, 102 passing yards, and 250 total yards less than an Oregon team that set a NCAA record for total yards in a single game in their season opening victory over Nichols State with 772 total yards of offense.
“I think it’s a great opportunity in developing this football team to be able to go on the road in a place like Oregon,” said Jones. “It’s extremely difficult in the venue that it is and perform at a championship level and everyone has to bring their A game. We’ll prepare our players just like we do each and every week.”
Jones still likes his young team’s chances as long as they come out and execute.
“At the end of the day it still comes down to one on one matchups and finishing plays,” he said.