KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox simply smiles when people tell him all spread offenses are similar.
Oversimplification to that degree isn’t much different than telling a mechanic that all four-door cars have the same motor, telling a chef that all pasta uses the same spices or telling a movie critic that every John Wayne film has the same plot.
In short, it’s completely inaccurate.
The Volunteers might get some small benefit from playing spread-oriented Oregon one week before spread-oriented Florida, but it would be just that — small.
“It’s a different kind of animal this week,” Wilcox said after UT’s Wednesday practice.
And he wasn’t comparing Ducks to Gators.
“It’s probably not as (beneficial) as you’d think,” Wilcox said of facing Oregon before Florida. “The misnomer of spread is everybody runs the same offense when they’re in spread, but they don’t. Florida incorporates more traditional, two-back run game with powers and counters and those kind of gap plays, where Oregon’s is a zone-read type offense.
“Florida’s got some of that, but like I said, that’s a different animal.”
Very few pro-style, two-back offenses are identical. Very few West Coast offenses are identical. Very few veer offenses are identical.
Spreads are no different, according to first-year UT head coach Derek Dooley. And as a former coach in the spread-happy WAC, he knows that firsthand.
“You know, there’s a lot of differences, there really is,” Dooley said. “I think certainly with a new quarterback, Florida’s done a little more pro style than they’ve done in the past. A lot of their spread stuff, there’s a lot more gap schemes that come with it, where Oregon didn’t do any gap schemes. It’s a little bit of a different attack in a lot of ways, but then there’s a lot of similarities.
“There are a lot of different spread families out there.”
So there aren’t that many similarities. But there are some.
Oregon and Florida, like many spread offenses, rely heavily of misdirection.
“They make guys, as far as defensive players, look at the wrong thing,” UT senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz said. “It’s something that, as a defense, you have to be very disciplined knowing every gap, what’s your fit, where you need to be, who’s your responsibility.”
Why so important?
Florida, like Oregon, forces defenders to matchup one-on-one with some of the fastest skill-position players in college football.
“Speed,” UT senior defensive lineman Gerald Williams said. “Speed, speed, speed. You can’t let none of them boys by you.”
And, most importantly to Dooley and Wilcox, the Vols have to play defense for 60 minutes.
Twenty-seven minutes of solid effort wasn’t nearly enough against the Ducks, and it won’t be nearly enough against the Gators.
Florida doesn’t sprint to the ball and get set every time the official starts the play clock like Oregon. But the Gators, like the Ducks, are deep at nearly every position on the field. And they’re also ferocious finishers.
“We felt like there were times we competed very well (against Oregon), and then there were times when we didn’t, and that’s not acceptable,” Wilcox said. “That’s something that we will never lose sight of. Everybody’s disappointed. Nobody likes to lose, and nobody likes to not play their best, but that’s part of life.
“You’ve got to lay it on the line, and if you don’t, you’re going to get called out on it.”
Suffice it to say, the Vols have been called out all week for their second-half performance against Oregon.
“Mentally, we could have handled that a lot better,” Wilcox said. “People get tired playing football, especially against a team like [Oregon], with the tempo they play at. But that’s no excuse for anything. Are we supposed to sit there and say, ‘Hold on, guys. We’re tired. Can we catch our breath?’ That’s just not how it works.
“We’ve got to learn to fight through some adversity, whether it’s fatigue or whether it’s a bad play. You’ve got to learn to fight through that stuff, and you do that by how you prepare.”
The Vols better learn in a hurry, too.
“You’re not going to sit around and say, ‘Poor me. I got tired,’” Wilcox said. “Nobody should do that. Nobody’s going to do that. We’re not allowing that. I don’t think the guys want to do that. That’s not at all our focus.
“It’s, ‘Get ready to play Florida, prepare the best we can, and let’s go lay it all out on the line and see what happens.’”
Dooley said the Vols are “preparing to play without” first-team center Cody Pope, who hasn’t been cleared for contact since suffering a concussion and stinger against Oregon.
The coach said Pope — who wore pads Wednesday but didn’t face contact — might still play if he’s ready by Saturday.
“That doesn’t mean he’ll start, but eventually you run out of guys,” Dooley said. “He’s getting better. I don’t know how long it will be.”
Dooley had a similar take on Michael Palardy (groin), a freshman who handles kickoffs.
Sophomore wide receiver Zach Rogers, who starts in place of injured senior Gerald Jones (hand), practiced again with a no-contact jersey but is expected to play Saturday.
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesrucker or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.
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