Tennessee-Oregon Preview


While Oregon hasn't relinquished its place among the most prolific scoring teams in the nation, the Ducks insist there's still room for improvement offensively.

That's a scary thought for unbeaten Tennessee, which faces the difficult challenge of slowing the second-ranked Ducks.

Oregon looks to win its 22nd straight home game against an unranked opponent when it takes on the Volunteers for the first time in three years Saturday.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas lead the Ducks (2-0) into this matchup after teaming for 489 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in two victories by a combined 125-13.

Mariota finished with 321 total yards and three touchdowns, while Thomas had 124 rushing yards and three scores in last Saturday's 59-10 victory at Virginia.

"If everything starts to click for us, I think things will get rolling and we'll be pretty good," said Mariota, who completed 14 of 28 attempts for 199 yards and two touchdowns.

Josh Huff has emerged as Mariota's top target with eight receptions for 173 yards, while Bralon Addison has added five catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns.

Although Oregon is averaging 62.5 points and 664.5 yards per game after putting up 49.6 and 537.4 with Chip Kelly running the show last season, first-year coach Mark Helfrich believes there's still work to do after his team committed 11 penalties against the Cavaliers for 119 yards - the program's highest total since Dec. 2, 2011.

"Obviously we will clean that up," said Helfrich, who served as offensive coordinator for four years under Kelly.

With the Ducks averaging an outstanding 9.5 yards per play and a 22.9-yard average on their 17 touchdowns, the Volunteers (2-0) hope they've fixed some of the problems that caused them to give up 14 touchdowns of at least 40 yards last season.

They shut out FCS program Austin Peay in their opener before forcing seven turnovers in a 52-20 victory over Western Kentucky last Saturday, but facing the high-scoring Ducks presents them with a whole new set of issues.

"They're going to make their big plays," Tennessee first-year coach Butch Jones said. "That's a function of what they do. That's part of their offense. It's not letting one big play equal two, equal three, equal four and have a snowball effect. ... We have to force them to make them drive the football on us, and that's very challenging."

The Volunteers can help their defense by keeping the ball out of Oregon's hands, and they'll try to sustain some long drives behind a running game that has totaled 555 yards and seven touchdowns. Rajion Neal leads the team with 216 yards and four scores and Marlin Lane has 136 yards and three touchdowns.

Justin Worley has completed 22 of 32 passes for 246 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

They'll face an Oregon team that has limited opponents to 2.8 yards per carry. The Ducks may be even better defensively after holding opponents to an average of 21.6 points in the offensive-minded Pac-12 last season.

"They're as good as advertised, probably the most complete team I've seen in a number of years to date," Jones said.

After falling behind early, Oregon managed to hold down the Volunteers' offense the only other time these teams met Sept. 11, 2010. Tennessee led 13-3 before the Ducks rattled off 45 unanswered points en route to a 48-13 victory.

Tennessee defensive end Jacques Smith is expected back Saturday after missing the first two games with a fractured right thumb.

Defensive lineman Maurice Couch, however, has been ruled ineligible as the university investigates allegations he was one of five Southeastern Conference players to receive improper benefits.

Jones wouldn't discuss Couch's status for the rest of the season.

"All I can speak of right now is the present,'' Jones said Thursday during his weekly interview with Nashville radio station 104.5, "and the present is he will not be accompanying us to Oregon.''

Couch, 23, played each of Tennessee's first two games as a reserve and made four tackles and one sack. He made 38 tackles and one sack while starting nine games last season.

Oregon has won 21 straight home games against unranked teams by an average of 34.0 points, while the Volunteers have lost 16 in a row - including the postseason - versus ranked foes.