On Saturday against the Tennessee Volunteers, the Oregon Ducks were losing. Yes, the Ducks’ football team was behind on the scoreboard. Hopes were soaring for Tennessee, as the 28-point underdogs were on top in hostile Autzen Stadium.
It lasted all of five minutes and 26 seconds.
The Ducks turned a 7-0 deficit into a 38-7 advantage in less than twenty minutes, to cover the spread by halftime.
Out of the blocks, the Tennessee defense halted the Ducks on their initial possession and again in the red zone, before taking the ball down the field on a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive in just more than three minutes. After that, though, the Tennessee offense was largely ineffective, while the Ducks’ scoring machine was turned on.
“When you go on the road and play the second-ranked team in the country, you have to perform better and a lot had to do with them. They are a very talented football team,” said Tennessee head coach Butch Jones.
“I thought the critical stretch was when it was 17-7 with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter. [Oregon] had third-and-11, and we didn’t get off the field. Those are the critical plays at the critical juncture of the game where you have to win that [down].”
Oregon, who hadn’t been behind since the first quarter of last November’s Civil War game, demoralized UT with speed and precision. As Volunteer players tried to sort out their coverages, Marcus Mariota tore it up. At halftime, Mariota had 350 passing yards for three scores, and was last seen dabbing light sweat from his forehead with a towel, almost if he had hoped he wouldn’t have to shower after the game.
Jones was obviously displeased with his team’s performance, saying, “I told them it better hurt. I told them it is unacceptable to play football like this at the University of Tennessee.”
Things did not improve for the Vols in act two, as the Ducks put up three more touchdowns after the break, while Tennessee failed to score – picking up only 38 offensive yards in the third quarter.
“Offensively, I don’t think we did what we needed to do to help our defense out, too many three-and-outs,” Jones said.
While the Vols will look to quickly recover from the whipping, the road ahead is about as brutal as one could imagine. The game against Oregon was UT’s first — and quite possibly the worst – in a nightmare stretch that has the program facing five top-20 teams in six games. Tennessee will head to Florida to face the Gators next week, before a possible reprieve against South Alabama. Then Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama await – in that order – for their battles with the Vols, meaning things could get ugly for the men from Knoxville. But, ironically, their return to face their foes in the “toughest conference in the country” may be a stroll in the park compared to what they faced Saturday in Eugene.
“Florida is not going to feel sorry for us. It is the most difficult schedule in the history of college football and it will take perseverance and resiliency,” Jones said. “We are going to find out [about] our competitive character.”
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