SEC: Tennessee Volunteers

NORMAN, Okla. -- Another SEC opponent. Another Oklahoma win.

Behind a sharp effort from quarterback Trevor Knight and a swarming defense that forced three turnovers, the Sooners coasted past Tennessee 34-10 to remain undefeated.

Here were the three plays that spearheaded Oklahoma's victory:


After Oklahoma scored a field goal on its opening drive, Tennessee came right back and was stringing together a drive of its own. Tennessee QB Justin Worley connected with Pig Howard for a 19-yard pass that pushed the Vols to the Oklahoma 40-yard line. But on the next play, Sooners defensive coordinator brought Quentin Hayes on a safety blitz. Worley never saw him coming, and Hayes belted into Worley's blindside, knocking the ball loose. After rolling through Worley, Hayes popped up and recovered the fumble, too. The turnover not only thwarted Tennessee's first potential scoring opportunity, it set up a Trevor Knight-to-Keith Ford touchdown pass six plays later to give the Sooners an early 10-0 lead and control of the game.

Despite a rocky start, Tennessee kept the Sooners from running away with the game in the first half, and trailed only 20-7 at halftime. But the Oklahoma offense, which struggled to end the second quarter, got rolling again in the third. With the Vols focused on Sterling Shepard on the boundary side, Knight flipped his vision the other way and tossed a strike to a wide open Durron Neal running a slant route. Neal slipped through a pair of defenders downfield, then raced to the Tennessee 9 for a 43-yard gain. Two plays later, Knight was in the end zone, giving the Sooners a commanding 27-7 lead.

Tennessee trailed 27-10 early in the fourth quarter, but had one final chance to get back in the game. Facing third-and-2 at the Oklahoma 4-yard line, Worley tried to force a pass to Marquez North at the front of the end zone. But before the pass could get to North, Oklahoma linebacker Jordan Evans tipped the ball in the air over North and into the arms of Sooners cornerback Julian Wilson. With a convoy leading the way, Wilson sprinted 100 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. Officials reviewed the play to make sure Wilson crossed the goal line before he dropped the ball. But replay confirmed he was in the end zone first.
LSU coach Les Miles doesn't have a problem playing eight SEC opponents every season.

Miles also realizes the Tigers could play nine SEC games in the very near future.

Miles just doesn't think it's fair that LSU has to play Florida every season, while other teams in the SEC West don't.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireUnder the current SEC scheduling format, Les Miles and LSU play Florida every season.
As SEC presidents, athletics directors and coaches convene this week for the league's annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla., long-term scheduling has become the hot-button issue.

The league is expected to vote whether to change its current 6-1-1 format, in which teams play each opponent from their respective division, along with one rotating foe and one permanent opponent from the opposite division. SEC officials could vote this week to add a ninth conference game or at least eliminate permanent crossover opponents.

The SEC adopted its current scheduling format to ensure that longstanding rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee and Georgia-Auburn would survive expansion.

By drawing the Gators as a permanent crossover opponent, Miles believes the Tigers drew the short end of the stick.

Miles won't complain about the scheduling format publicly, but he knows LSU is at a disadvantage.

And Miles is probably right.

"When they give us our schedule, I'm looking forward to having a great competition," Miles said.

Since 2000, LSU has played Florida and Georgia -- two of the SEC East's best programs -- a total of 17 times. Auburn is the only SEC West team which has faced those teams more often, playing them 19 times. Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss have faced them a total of 10 times each, while Alabama has played them only eight times.

While it's not fair that LSU has faced the Bulldogs and Gators nearly twice as often as Alabama has played them since 2000, Miles' argument might fall on deaf ears. Auburn and Georgia aren't going to surrender the longtime series -- the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has been played 116 times since 1892. Likewise, Alabama and Tennessee have played 95 times since 1901, a game so revered it's named for its traditional place on the calendar, the Third Saturday in October.

And Ole Miss would probably rather play Vanderbilt every season instead of Florida, Georgia or South Carolina, and Mississippi State isn't going pass up a chance to play Kentucky every year.

"There's never going to be a fair way," said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, whose Aggies drew Missouri as a permanent crossover opponent. "If you look back seven or eight years ago, you would have said the SEC East was the strongest division. You can't say what's fair, because things change in this league. You can't look at tradition. Ten years ago, you might have wanted to play South Carolina. Now you don't want anything to do with them. You don't know what Tennessee is going to do with a new coach. I know Butch Jones is going to do a great job."

Florida-LSU has become one of the league's most anticipated games every season. They've been two of the league's most dominant teams over the past decade. They've combined to appear in seven SEC championship games since 2003, and they've combined to play in nine BCS bowl games, including five BCS national championship games. In their past 10 meetings, LSU and Florida were both ranked in the top 25 of the coaches' poll nine times. Conversely, Alabama and Tennessee were both ranked only once in their past 10 meetings.

The loser of the Florida-LSU regular-season game has paid dearly over the past 10 seasons. LSU's 23-10 loss at Florida in 2006 knocked the Tigers out of the SEC championship game (the Gators defeated Arkansas 38-28 and then blasted Ohio State 41-14 to win the BCS title). Last year, LSU's 14-6 loss at Florida probably cost it a spot in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, if not another trip to a BCS bowl game.

Florida's losses to LSU in 2002, '05 and '07 kept them out of the SEC championship game and potentially BCS bowl games.

Mizzou, South Carolina, victorious

November, 10, 2012
Missouri 51, Tennessee 48 (4 OT): Redshirt freshman kicker Andrew Baggett connected on a 35-yard field goal, lifting the Tigers to a thrilling four-overtime road victory at Neyland Stadium.

Missouri needed a near-miracle just to get the game to overtime, trailing 28-21 in the final minute of regulation. The Tigers converted two fourth downs, including a 25-yard touchdown pass from James Franklin to Dorial Green-Beckham on 4th-and-12 to tie the game at 28-28 with 47 seconds left.

Boos rained down from the fans at Neyland when the Volunteers decided to run out the clock and go to overtime.

The teams exchanged touchdowns in the first two overtimes, and Missouri receiver Marcus Lucas made another impressive catch, an 18-yard reception reminiscent of Green-Beckham's regulation haul, to send it to a third overtime tied at 42.

The teams exchanged touchdowns and failed two-point conversion attempts in the third overtime, then Tennessee coach Derek Dooley made an interesting decision in the fourth overtime, electing to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the Missouri 18. Quarterback Tyler Bray's pass to Zach Rogers fell incomplete and the Vols paid for it when the Tigers capitalized with Baggett's game-winning kick.

The loss keeps Tennessee (4-6, 0-6 SEC) winless in conference play while the Tigers (5-5, 2-5) picked up their second SEC win.

Franklin's day was a good one, as he went 19-of-32 for 226 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. He also picked up 43 yards on the ground, and senior running back Kendial Lawrence rolled to a 153-yard, two-touchdown day on 21 carries, which included a 77-yard third-quarter touchdown run.

Tennessee was awful in the penalty department, committing 11 for 80 yards.

South Carolina 38, Arkansas 20: Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks receivers found plenty of room downfield en route to the resounding victory against the Razorbacks at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Shaw, the Gamecocks' junior quarterback, was 14-of-22 passing for 272 yards and two touchdowns. He was able to hit on big plays down the field early and often -- the first coming on a 29-yard pass to a wide-open freshman tight end Jerell Adams.

The Razorbacks moved the ball well themselves in the first half, getting inside the Gamecocks' 10 on three straight drives, but only yielded 10 points from those three trips. The first ended in a lost fumble by Dennis Johnson, the second resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Wilson to Keon Hatcher, and the third stalled before becoming a short Zach Hocker field goal.

Shaw continued his downfield assault before the half, hitting a wide open Bruce Ellington for a 42-yard touchdown at the 1:30 mark, giving South Carolina a 21-10 lead going into halftime.

The defense got in on the act in the third quarter when D.J. Swearinger stepped in front of a Wilson pass and returned it 69 yards for a score and a 31-10 lead.

The Gamecocks put ample pressure on Wilson, sacking him four times and picking up four hurries as well. Wilson was productive when he did have time (26-of-41, 277 yards) but threw two interceptions with his two touchdowns.

South Carolina was able to keep the chains moving fairly well, converting 7-of-13 attempts on third down. That's an area where Arkansas struggled mightily (3-of-17). The turnover battle went in the Gamecocks' favor also, 3-1, with the only South Carolina turnover coming with Shaw taking a shot in the end zone holding a 38-13 lead in the fourth.

Bray shines in Tennessee romp

September, 8, 2012
Tennessee 51, Georgia State 13: It looked like Tennessee might be primed for a letdown after about a quarter and a half of football.

A 30-yard field goal from Georgia State kicker Christian Benvenuto with about six minutes to play in the second quarter Saturday afternoon cut the Volunteers' lead to a paltry 14-6. After last weekend's offensive explosion against NC State, it seemed destined to be an ugly, bumbling win for Derek Dooley's squad.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray changed all that when he took charge of the Volunteers' next possession, however. Bray led the Vols on scoring drives of 73 and 79 yards in the last five minutes of the first half. Those two drives just took four plays and three plays, respectively. Bray capped off both drives with touchdown passes to wide receiver Justin Hunter, pushing Tennessee's advantage to an insurmountable 28-6 at half.

Bray left the game early with an impressive stat line: 18 of 20 for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those went to Hunter, who reminded Vols fans why he went into the season as the No. 1 target with eight receptions for 146 yards. Mychal Rivera grabbed the fourth touchdown and finished with 71 yards on three receptions.

Not surprisingly, the Volunteers had their way in all aspects of offense. The ground game cranked out 186 yards on the Panthers, led by Rajion Neal's 65 yards and two touchdowns.

Combined with last week's win against the Wolfpack, Tennessee is now averaging 541 yards per game. It will be fun to see how well that holds up next weekend, when No. 24 Florida comes to Knoxville, Tenn., for a battle of early undefeated teams.

What's coming up: Part 1

September, 8, 2012
Mississippi State-Auburn and Florida-Texas A&M take center stage in the conference this afternoon, but three other SEC squads are also playing day games.

Here's what's coming:

East Carolina at No. 9 South Carolina (12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network): Connor Shaw's status looks to be up in the air right up until kickoff in Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks' signal caller bruised his shoulder in last week's ugly win against Vanderbilt, and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said this week he could be a game-time decision. That means the Gamecocks will likely lean on running back Marcus Lattimore after his 110-yard, two touchdown performance last week. East Carolina is 1-0 after easily dispatching FCS foe Appalachian State to open the season. The Pirates held a 10-point halftime lead in last year's meeting with South Carolina before eventually falling 56-37.

Western Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network): It's probably not smart to doubt Alabama coach Nick Saban, with his two national titles in the last three seasons and three national titles overall. But Saban's assertion that it's "unfair" to write off Western Kentucky ahead of today's matchup is, frankly, laughable. Even if the Tide suffer a letdown after last weekend's statement win against Michigan, they'll roll through this game with ease. Saban seems concerned about his team getting complacent, but he shouldn't worry. Once his backups finish off the Hilltoppers, it will be time to get ready for a trip to No. 8 Arkansas.

Georgia State at Tennessee (4 p.m. ET, ESPN 3): If the Volunteers take care of business in their home opener against FCS squad Georgia State, it will be just their third 2-0 start in the last eight seasons. Tennessee will undoubtedly hope for more of the same fireworks between quarterback Tyler Bray and new wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who totaled 165 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns last week against N.C. State. If they can maintain the momentum, the Vols should have no trouble with the Panthers before hosting Florida next weekend.

Video: SEC vs. ACC blogger debate

August, 30, 2012

SEC blogger Chris Low and ACC blogger Heather Dinich debate the big games this week between the two conferences.

Gators offense just offensive post-Tebow

August, 16, 2012
It's only Year 2 of the Will Muschamp era at Florida, but Gator fans have to be feeling uneasy about its stagnant offense while winning just five regular-season games against FBS opponents in 2011.

Even more troubling, none of the five wins came against teams that finished the year with a winning record (1-11 FAU, 3-9 UAB, 5-7 Tennessee, 5-7 Kentucky and 6-7 Vanderbilt).

Expanding the scope and looking at the Gators against all automatic qualifiers, you can see just how much they scuffled in 2011.

Florida ranked 65th of 67 AQ schools in both third-down percentage (29.0) and total yards per game (284.0). Its offense also finished 64th in red zone touchdown percentage (41.7).

Florida’s struggles really started with the departures of Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin to the NFL.

Led by Tebow and Harvin in 2007 and 2008, the Florida offense completed 38 touchdown passes and threw eight interceptions in SEC contests.

With Tebow alone in 2009, the Gators managed only nine touchdown passes and five picks in SEC play, illustrating Harvin's importance to the team.

The last two years have been even worse for Florida -- a combined 12 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions against conference opponents.

Quarterback John Brantley never looked comfortable, while Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel went through predictable freshman growing pains. Not surprisingly, the Gators went 7-9 in the SEC over the past two seasons.

Both Brissett and Driskel struggled in particular when attempting to stretch the field in 2011.

Together, the pair combined to complete only 31 percent of their pass attempts of 10-plus yards downfield with one touchdown and five interceptions. On throws 20-plus yards, that percentage dropped to 6.7 percent (1-15) with a touchdown and four picks.

Along with their struggles through the air, the running game also let the Gators down in 2011.

Florida ranked 73rd in the FBS in rush yards per game (143.0) and scored an SEC-low nine rushing touchdowns. Of those nine touchdowns, seven came in two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

The one bright spot for Florida was wide receiver Andre Debose. He reeled in a team-high four catches on pass attempts of 20-plus yards downfield and all four went for touchdowns.

More impressively, the four touchdown catches all gained at least 60 yards, giving Debose the most 60-plus touchdown receptions in the SEC (second in FBS).

Hired away from Boise State, new offensive coordinator Brent Pease has been asked to revive Florida’s sputtering offense.

Last season Boise State finished fifth in points (44.2) and T-ninth in yards per game (481.3) albeit against non-SEC competition.

Even still, if Florida puts up anywhere near those numbers in 2012, the Gators and their fans will be more than happy to "give Pease a chance."
In his first public comments since disappearing from Tennessee's football team last week, receiver Da'Rick Rogers downplayed the controversy his absence created.

In fact, the rising junior didn't even see it as one at all.

"Oh man, no controversy," Rogers said after practice on Monday. "Just had some little things to handle off the field, got those handled and now we're looking forward to becoming a championship-contending team.”

Rogers declined to provide specifics about the situation, repeatedly using the terms “personal issues” and “off the field” while downplaying the entire situation during the roughly six minutes he was made available to assembled media.

[+] EnlargeDa'Rick Rogers
Kim Klement/US PresswireTennessee receiver Da'Rick Rogers had six 100-yard receiving games last season.
Controversy or not, the issue lit up local sports talk radio shows and Internet message boards after Rogers left the Vols last week following an unspecified violation of team rules.

The Georgia native made reference to Georgia State on his Twitter account last week, and a Georgia State website reported that Rogers intended on transferring to the school before backing off that to eventually say that Georgia State would be the only school Rogers would consider should he decide to transfer.

“If I was a distraction, I really wasn't trying to be a distraction,” the first-team All-SEC performer said. “It was a situation that we got handled, and everything is good now. … No transfer for me, no consideration. Maybe I need to do a little better job with my tweets, letting everybody know what's really actually going on, so next time it won't be misinterpreted."

Rogers said he was sorry if his absence tested his team’s focus on football, and that he planned on apologizing to his teammates. He wouldn't say if any teammates came to him to address his behavior.

“There really wasn't much in the air to clear,” Rogers said. “The team, we've always been on the same page, just little things happen. I think we got those handled, so everything should be good from here on out.”

Rogers downplayed a reported incident with a strength and conditioning coach that might have played a part in last week's absence.

“No issues,” he said. “Maybe a few misunderstandings, but nothing too serious.”
Rogers also addressed some missed team meetings in December, saying he was focusing on academics at the time.

When asked if his stature as a top playmaker on Tennessee's team might have played a part in the extensive coverage of his absence, Rogers said, “You make plays, the camera is always going to be on you, so you take the good with the bad. Anything you do will be publicized, so it's just something you have to learn how to live with and learn how to handle as you get older.”

Coach Derek Dooley said Rogers had to complete certain criteria for his return, and Rogers was back at practice on Saturday after missing one practice last week.

“I think it's like every player. It takes time,” Dooley said. “Da'Rick is going to make another mistake, like I will and everybody else will. But I know deep down in the core of Da'Rick, he loves Tennessee. He always has. He wants to be here. He wants to help the team win. Learning how to do that, every player has to figure it out.”

On the field, Dooley complimented Rogers' effort in practice on Monday.

“He had a good day today,” Dooley said. “He's got a good attitude. Made some really good plays today for us in the red area.”

Rogers caught 67 passes for 1,040 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. He had six 100-yard receiving games and averaged 15.5 yards per catch.

Is Vols' Da'Rick Rogers in or out?

March, 29, 2012
Tennessee junior receiver Da’Rick Rogers was seemingly at the edge of that proverbial plank a long time ago.

Some players insist on living there, even the ones as talented as Rogers.

You watch him pull in a touchdown pass one-handed and physically manhandle the cornerback trying to cover him and remind yourself that he’s an NFL talent that any coach would fight to keep on his team.

But then you hear how much Rogers is into himself – and apparently oblivious that football is a team game that demands genuine respect for your coaches and teammates – and you’re at a loss as to how Tennessee coach Derek Dooley could put up with Rogers’ nonsense as long as he has.

The latest on Rogers is that he didn’t practice Thursday and won’t return to the team until he does a few things internally required of him. Earlier this offseason, Rogers also wasn't allowed to work out with the team for a couple of weeks.

Dooley refused to call this latest deal a suspension. He rarely uses that word when talking about managing players.

“He's got some things he's got to do internally, and when he does them, he'll be back," Dooley told reporters following practice Thursday. "It's kind of an internal, team issue, and it's something he's just got to finish doing some stuff, and when he does, he'll be back. I wouldn't call it anything other than he's got to do some things, and when he does, he can come back. And (if) he doesn't, he's not going to be here."

Dooley said Rogers could be back as early as today or Friday.

But at this point: Does anybody on the team really want him back?

Is his baggage worth it in what's clearly a pivotal year for Dooley in his third season on the job?

Yes, Justin Hunter is coming off a serious knee injury, and heralded junior college receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is still not on campus. But at some point, Rogers has to start pulling in the same direction as the rest of his teammates and quit being such a distraction, or it's not going to matter what he does on the field.

Given how disconnected the Vols were as a team at the end of last season, Dooley's playing with fire. The last thing he wants to do is give the impression that one player is getting special treatment or playing by his own set of rules.

There was an Internet report Thursday that Rogers was leaving Tennessee and transferring to Georgia State. He's from Calhoun, Ga. Dooley said that nobody had said anything to him about Rogers wanting to leave.

"He's never told me that or indicated that to me or anybody else," Dooley said.

Either way, Rogers is dangerously close to wearing out his welcome on Rocky Top, and some might say that he wore out that welcome a long time ago.

Edward Aschoff previews this week’s SEC game of the week: Georgia at Tennessee.

Links: Memories linger for Bulldogs

October, 6, 2011
Georgia Bulldogs players and coaches would love to forget their last two trips to Knoxville, Tenn. But some losses leave marks that just don't go away when the bruises heal. The last two games Georgia played against the Volunteers in Neyland Stadium found the Bulldogs being outscored 80-33. The point disparity was not the only painful memory. Radi Nabulsi has more on bad memories of Neyland Stadium.

Video: Bulldogs talk Neyland Stadium memories

DawgNation has more coverage:

David Ching writes: Georgia's offensive line has had its moments, but lapses and lack of depth have hindered production

Notebook: Georgia's defense has dramatically improved on third down. So has Tennessee's offense. Something have to give Saturday.
North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (6-6)

Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. ET (ESPN)

North Carolina take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: North Carolina, which began the season ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press preseason poll, had much higher hopes this season, but considering how injuries and suspensions decimated the roster, an appearance in a bowl game is not an accomplishment those within the program take lightly. Carolina is in a bowl game for the third straight season, the school’s longest streak since going to seven straight bowl games from 1992-98. UNC and Tennessee had previously agreed to play in 2011 and 2012, but Tennessee canceled the series.

UNC returned all but two starters on defense and was expected to contend for the ACC title in coach Butch Davis’ fourth season, but the Tar Heels lost 14 players for at least one game and seven for the entire season because of a two-pronged NCAA investigation. UNC started the season with back-to-back losses, but a four-game winning streak revived their bowl hopes.

Backups have played integral roles for Carolina, but veteran quarterback T.J. Yates has been one of the most improved players in the country this year and at the heart of the team’s success. He is No. 2 in the conference in passing efficiency and No. 2 in passing average per game.

Tennessee take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Tennessee was 0-for-October earlier this season and staring at a 2-6 record. Granted, the competition got a lot easier, but the Vols rebounded nicely under first-year coach Derek Dooley to earn a trip to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

Tennessee’s surge here at the end of the season started with Dooley turning the keys of the offense over to true freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, and the cool Californian responded by throwing 12 touchdown passes in his four starts.

The Vols also have one of the better group of receivers in the SEC. Seniors Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones have both had big seasons, but true freshmen Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers have also come on during this winning streak.

All told, Tennessee has 21 first-year players in its two-deep, and at times, had three freshmen playing on the offensive line. The Vols have also been a lot better on defense these past four games and kept teams out of the end zone.

To get to seven wins and finish a game above .500 would be a real accomplishment for this team and would match last season’s 7-6 record -- when it looked like the closest the Vols would get to a bowl game back in October was watching one on television.

How can Tennessee beat Oregon?

June, 25, 2010
This is annoying: The SEC and Pac-10 only play one game in 2010 and, on paper, it doesn't look like much of a game.

Oregon, which figures to be ranked in or near the preseason top 10, visits a Tennessee team on Sept. 11 that is on its third coach in three years and is clearly rebuilding.

(Volunteers fans: Release your Lane Kiffin curses ... now!)

And yet.

While Ducks fans over on the Pac-10 blog seem to believe this is going to be a butt kicking, I'm not so sure. Maybe it's because I was covering Auburn during the Phillip Fulmer glory days and can't imagine the Vols ever being anyone's patsy (in fact, I was covering preps and recruiting for the Mobile Register when a guy from Williamson High School by the name of Tamaurice Martin -- some called him "Tee" -- picked the Volunteers over Auburn).

Or maybe it's because the last time a highly ranked Pac-10 team thought it was going to deliver a whipping in Neyland Stadium, California face planted in 2006.

My hunch is this will be a competitive game. So, with that said, here are three keys for Tennessee to score the upset over the Ducks.
  1. Tauren Poole & Luke Stocker: The Volunteers are completely -- completely as in all five 2009 starters are gone -- rebuilding their offensive line. Oh, and their QB, whoever that ends up being between junior college transfer Matt Simms and true freshman Tyler Bray, will be seeing his first college action the previous weekend vs. UT-Martin. That's not good. But Poole at running back and Stocker at tight end are good. Perhaps even very good. The Ducks' defense is a veteran unit and extremely fast. They also run a lot of stunts, which can confuse a young O-line. But they aren't very big. So keep it simple on offense and get the ball to your money guys. Word on the street is Poole can make plays even when the blocking isn't perfect. And when the Ducks start obsessing about Poole, that would be the perfect time to dump it to the 6-foot-6, 253-pound Stocker and see what he can do in the secondary. A big target like Stocker could help a young QB gain some confidence, at which point he can start looking for his wideouts.
  2. Boise State & Ohio State: QB Jeremiah Masoli running coach Chip Kelly's spread-option offense was often a thing of beauty. But, you may have heard, Masoli won't be a problem in Knoxville. Further, it seems like defenses that have more than just one week to prepare have more success against the Ducks' spread-option -- see a pair of early-season losses to Boise State and the Rose Bowl defeat to Ohio State. The Vols will have the entire summer to familiarize themselves with Oregon's misdirection, as well as to get accustomed to the Ducks' extraordinary pace (their no-huddle is as fast-paced an offense as you will see). Ohio State often won one-on-one matchups up front. The Vols have some solid talent, experience and depth with their front seven, though it won't match the Buckeyes. Boise State often out-flanked the Ducks with an outstanding game plan. Wait a second! Where did that new, hotshot defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox come from? Boise State! Wilcox has faced the Ducks each of the past two seasons. He knows their scheme and their personnel. That's a huge advantage.
  3. Atmosphere: Before Cal's 2006 visit, the Bears downplayed the experience of playing in front of 100,000-plus fans. Southern humidity? Who cares! And then the Bears wilted, mentally and physically. One Cal player told me later that Neyland was such a "freak show" -- his term -- that it was a significant distraction. My guess is Vols fans thought their trip to Berkeley, where student protesters were living in trees, was a bit of a "freak show," too. But the Ducks won't be used to the atmosphere -- both the stadium size as well as the weather (summers in Eugene often demand a sweater at night). Aggravating matters, they will be sending out a mostly green QB to handle the pressure on the road. Senior Nate Costa has started only one game: at UCLA in 2009. Sophomore Darron Thomas came off the bench as a true freshman vs. Boise State in 2008 and led a stunning comeback, but he redshirted last year. In other words, instead of a two-year starter leading the Ducks' complicated offense in a hostile environment, they will be relying on an unproven guy. A couple of early mistakes, and that atmosphere could prove a significant factor.
Greetings from the West Coast. Enjoy your lunch. I may need more coffee.

Video: Vols' Tauren Poole talks about running game

April, 17, 2010
PM ET's Chris Low interviews Tennessee RB Tauren Poole.