The Tennessee Volunteers come to town for a return matchup, as Tennessee is one of the few SEC teams that honors its scheduling contracts. The Vols 4-3 base defense has been working hard at being prepared to try to stop the high-octane Ducks’ offense.
Tennessee probably has the best linebacking group in the SEC, which is quite a statement. They are led by Mike LB A.J. Johnson, a 6′-2″, 243-pound junior, who led the SEC in tackles last year. The Sam LB is Brent Brewer, a 6′-1″, 221-pound senior, and the Will LB is Dontavis Sapp, another senior at 6′-2″ and 227 pounds. These three Vols are big and fast, but can they slow down the Ducks as they’ve been able to slow down their first two opponents? This defense had seven takeaways against Western Kentucky last week. Additionally, the Vols feature a monster run-stopper in DL Daniel McCullers, a 6′-8″, 351-pound senior, who patrols the middle of the line at nose tackle.
In the above picture, you can see the Vols’ basic 4-3 defensive alignment to stop the run, which they used against Western Kentucky last week. Also in the picture, you can also see where the they took away the corner from the Hilltoppers’ RB, which netted a loss of a yard for Western Kentucky.
However, if you look at the next picture (above), Western Kentucky takes the short corner between the double TE’s and nets a gain of about seven yards. Again the Vol D was in a base 4-3, and the Hilltoppers made a few yards, despite the fact that Tennessee had moved an extra defender to that side (the CB marked with X).
In light of all this, the Vols defense seemed vulnerable to the short, 5-to-8 yard passes, and had they chosen to, the Hilltoppers could have nickel-and-dimed the Vols to death. In the picture (above), you can see how the short pass, which was good for about eight yards, came to be. Part of the issue was that the DBs were giving much too much cushion to the Hilltopper receivers. Chances are they are going to give the Duck receivers even more cushion because of the Ducks’ speed.
Tennessee had back-to-back pick-six’s last week, the first from a batted ball and this one (above) resulting when the Hilltopper’s quarterback threw late and behind his receiver, into the hands of the waiting DB. The Vol DBs are ball-hawks, so pay close attention to what is happening: the Ducks will need to be crisp in their execution this weekend.
In the next picture (above), we see just how successful the Volunteers are at stripping the ball away from running backs. If the Ducks are lax in any area of ball security, Tennessee will take advantage. Even though the game is at Autzen, too many turnovers would spell a long day for Oregon.
On the other side of the ball, the Tennessee offensive line is massive. As you can see in the picture (above), the linemen average 6′-4″, 312-pounds and have 129 starts between them. This is a predominately-senior group of players who know what they are doing, and will be a challenge for the smaller and lighter Duck defensive linemen.
In the next picture (above), we see how the Vols use the four wide-outs to help open space for the Tennessee RB up the middle. But it is the offensive linemen who create the lane for the RB to score. Also, those same five OLs allowed only eight sacks last year, which was tied for third in the FBS.
In conclusion, there is a good chance the Volunteer DBs will allow a large cushion to prevent the big play, especially when considering the Ducks’ team speed. For the first half, I suspect that the Tennessee linebackers will be able to stay with the Oregon offense, but by the second half, the Ducks conditioning and pace will wear down the Vols. A final score of 52-20 doesn’t seem unreasonable, as long as the Ducks don’t commit turnovers.
Bob Laws, Flagstaff, Arizona, and Charles Fischer, Eugene, Oregon.
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