college football picks Oregon at Tennessee 9-11-10

September 10, 2010


GAME NOTES: Coming off perhaps the most impressive performance in week one of the 2010 college football season, the seventh-ranked Oregon Ducks take to the road, as they invade SEC Country to battle the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.

Chip Kelly’s Ducks won the Pac-10 a year ago and definitely carried that momentum over into this year, as they completely destroyed the New Mexico Lobos in the season-opener for both squads last weekend, 72-0. It was the most points scored by any team in any game involving one or two FBS programs. The 72 points tied the school’s modern scoring record (72 against Nevada in 1999) and was the most points scored overall since a 97-0 shutout of Williamette (Ore) in 1916.

The Volunteers provided new head coach Derek Dooley with a similar result in his debut with the team, as Tennessee blanked UT-Martin last weekend, 50-0. It was the team’s first shutout in a season-opener in 17 years and certainly got the Dooley era off on the right foot.

These two teams have never met before on the gridiron.

The Ducks lost their starting quarterback before the season began and played the opener without the services of the Pac-10’s leading rusher in LaMichael James (suspension), yet still rolled up 720 yards of total offense in a blanking of New Mexico. James, who rushed for 1,546 yards last year, was replaced in the lineup by sophomore Kenjon Barner, who made the most of his opportunity, rumbling for 147 yards and four TDs, while adding a fifth score on a reception. Replacing Barner in the return game was fellow sophomore Cliff Harris, who also had a huge game, taking two punt returns back for scores.

While the ground game hummed to the tune of 369 yards, the passing game, under new signal-caller Darron Thomas, who replaced Jeremiah Masoli, was responsible for 351 yards. Thomas was 13-of-23 passing, for 220 yards and one TD. The Oregon offensive line definitely did its job in the opener, allowing no sacks and paving the way for 6.4 yards per carry.

It couldn’t have gotten much better defensively for Oregon either, as the team completed the shutout while effectively stopping the run (25 yards) and the pass (82 yards) to lead the nation in total defense after one week. In addition, Oregon allowed just eight first downs and recorded five takeaways and eight TFLs in the game. This very opportunistic unit was led by players like senior LB Spencer Paysinger (four tackles, one sack), senior DT Brandon Bair (four tackles, 2.5 TFLs) and senior LB Bryson Littlejohn (two fumble recoveries).

Coach Kelly still isn’t sure what to expect from the new look Volunteers.

“You don’t know and that’s why we gotta play.It’s a big unknown. They beat Tennessee-Martin 50-0 and you can look at their tape and they didn’t get very deep into their playbook.”

While not as prolific as Oregon’s offensive outburst, Tennessee’s start to the season wasn’t far off the mark, with the Volunteers racking up 50 points and 537 yards of total offense. In all, the team recorded 23 first downs and got great balance with 332 yards rushing and 205 yards passing. Quarterback Matt Simms played well enough, completing 14-of-24 passes, for 181 yards and one TD, but it was the three-headed monster in the backfield of Tauren Poole (110 yards, two TDs), Rajion Neal (79 yards, 8.8 ypc) and David Oku (77 yards, 12.8 ypc, one TD) that stole the show. Throw in a 58-yard TD scamper by Denarius Moore and there is certainly no shortage of talented ball-carriers in Knoxville.

Once again, the defense was every bit as good as the offense, with Tennessee giving up a mere 142 yards of total offense, with 56 yards coming on the ground (1.9 ypc) and 86 through the air. Sophomore safety Prentiss Waggner got his season off strong, with a team-high six tackles. Waggner also intercepted a pass that he took 54 yards to the end zone. Linebackers LeMarcus Thompson (five tackles, one TFL) and Austin Johnson (five tackles, one INT) came up big in the middle of the field, while NT Montori Hughes (four tackles, 2.5 TFLs, one sack) was solid up front.

Coach Dooley knows that Oregon will present a whole different challenge to his defense this week.

“Oh, man. If there’s a more explosive offense in the country — I don’t know if there’s a more explosive one. There’s probably plenty of them that are as explosive. Them and Bama, probably the two best running back combinations that you’ll see in the country. They had the best runner out, and you see how bad that hurt them last week. So, yeah. Nobody ever stops them. You’ve just got to slow them down, and try to be sound fundamentally, and try to get some breaks here and there.”

Both teams were impressive in their openers, but the step up in competition will effect both squads this week. Traveling to Knoxville is never an easy thing to do and usually a good Pac-10 team is trumped by a good SEC team. However, this is a scary Oregon offense that will be even better with James in the lineup this week. Look for Oregon to soften up Tennessee with the run and win a hard-fought game in extremely hostile territory.

FREE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICKS : Oregon 27, Tennessee 20

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