KNOXVILLE — Oregon football has been synonymous with speed ever since former coach Chip Kelly injected his high-tempo offensive scheme into the program.
In practices this week leading up to Saturday's game, Tennessee and first-year coach Butch Jones are trying everything from having two scout teams rotate with ready plays to employing freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs in the role as Marcus Mariota, the second-ranked Ducks' speedy dual-threat QB.
"I think you can simulate the procedure, but it's hard to simulate the game speed of their athletes," Jones said following Tuesday's practice. "It's one thing to get lined up fast, but it's leveraging the ball, it's containing the football, it's finishing plays. Everyone talks about practicing against it, but what's hard to simulate is a quarterback that runs a 4.4 [in the 40-yard dash], who can also drop back and throw the football.
"Speed across the perimeter, tackling in space and the physicality with which their [offense plays] -- that's more challenging than just the overall procedure. We'll be fine with the procedure. It's being able to play in space, tackle and leverage the football and finish plays -- that's the big concern."
The Volunteers have been preparing for the Ducks' up-tempo offense in more than just scout-team adjustments and competition.
"It's going to be pretty difficult, but I think our coaching staff's making it easy for us getting the calls in quicker," safety Brian Randolph said. "They're doing less hand signals. They're going to let us make most of the checks by ourselves, so I think we'll be pretty good. I think the coaches have got us all prepared."
While the Ducks are known for their speed, the Vols know they're not unbeatable.
"If we make plays. they can't go as fast as you think they can," linebacker Dontavis Sapp said. "They're the No. 2 team in the country, but who cares? It's just a number."
Oregon's offense tends to take the spotlight with its big plays and dazzling speed, but the defense deserves credit after intercepting three passes against Virginia last week and recovering one fumble against Nicholls State the week before.
Tennessee right guard Zach Fulton didn't play much in the Vols' first meeting against the Ducks three years ago, but he remembers their high-tempo offense and defense.
"The defense is just as great," Fulton said. "The defensive line plays well, and they play well with their hands. The secondary are flying around, the linebackers are flying around. It's a great defense and it's going to be a great challenge for us."
The Vols want to challenge the Ducks with long, time-sapping drives.
"We just need to maintain," Fulton said. "We need to keep doing what we've been doing. We need to sustain drives this week, because we really don't want our defense on the field that long. They're nothing I haven't really seen in my tenure here."
'Juice Man' returns
After breaking his thumb during practice on Aug. 6, defensive end Jacques Smith will be returning to play against the Ducks. While Smith was sidelined, the former Ooltewah star's enthusiasm and energy weren't lost. Jones casually referred to him as the Vols' "Juice man" while he was out.
"It's great to have him back," Sapp said.
"He'll be ready," Jones said. "[He's] another edge presence, but he hasn't played in a while, so it's getting back into game shape. He's done a lot of conditioning, water, treadmills, all that, but it's really pass-rush moves. It's going to be an endurance.
"They're going to force us to play three, four, five, six, seven plays, extended plays. Again, that's that mental toughness of being able to push through, and that's why you have to practice like you're going to play each and every day. We've got some guys right now that have to take great strides in that area."
Jones said linebacker Curt Maggitt continues to progress, though the important junior is not yet 100 percent ready to play. "If we were to play tomorrow," the coach said, "he would not play." ... Defensive end Corey Vereen, the freshman who underwent surgery to return a torn meniscus on Aug. 9 and has remained ahead of schedule throughout his recovery, was in a noncontact jersey during Tuesday's practice as he nears a return. . ... Reserve linebackers Greg King and Raiques Crump, two seniors who have roles on a couple of Tennessee's special-teams units, didn't practice.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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