EUGENE, Ore. — The first few turns of the key yielded only the sputter of a powerful engine struggling to start.
Once Oregon's offensive machine did get going, though, there was little Tennessee could do to stop it.
The second-ranked Ducks rattled off 38 unanswered first-half points after the upstart Volunteers scored the first touchdown of the game, stretched that run to 59 with three third-quarter touchdowns and blitzed their SEC visitors with 687 yards of offense in a 59-14 rout Saturday afternoon at noisy Autzen Stadium.
The 45-point defeat was the largest for Tennessee since a 48-0 loss to Mississippi A&M (now Mississippi State) in 1910, and it's the Vols' second loss of 40 or more points in the last three years.
"That's a good team, man," said Tennessee left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, who was visibily fuming frustration. "At the end of the day, we're Tennessee and we've got to continue to improve. I'm just [ticked] off right now, man. I just hate losing, man. This is not what we're about. We've just got to continue to come in next week and make the corrections and get ready for Florida.
"I was really encouraged by how everybody tried to keep the energy up, but like I said, what y'all saw today, it wasn't Tennessee football."
It was Oregon football, though.
The Ducks' offense did what it does, piling up yards, big plays and points with an array of speed, tempo and talent. Quarterback Marcus Mariota magnificently led the way, accounting for 483 yards of offense and five scores. Running backs De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner combined for 156 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Receiver Josh Huff and tight end Johnny Mundt totaled 11 catches, 246 yards and three touchdowns.
"We knew coming in we had to play pretty much error-free football," first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, "and we did the things you can't do against an extremely talented football team."
The Vols overcame a fumble by tailback Rajion Neal on their second offensive snap, forced a missed field-goal try and drove 80 yards for the game's opening score.
After that, though, Tennessee's offense was anemic. Three of the Vols' next five drives ended in three-and-outs. They would punt and Oregon would turn the stop into seven points.
The Ducks scored touchdowns on eight consecutive possessions, while Tennessee entered the fourth quarter with 213 yards of offense and seven first downs.
"You tell me," Jones responded when asked about his offense's identity. "I mean, we have to be able to run the football more. I thought Oregon did a great job with the line of scrimmage. We pride ourselves on being a physical, blue-collar football team, and I thought they won the line-of-scrimmage battle, and that can't happen."
Once Oregon got its offense going, the Vols had no answer, though neither do most teams. The Ducks were the nation's top-scoring offense a season ago, and they've scored 66, 59 and 59 points in three games this season.
A couple of Tennessee players mentioned some confusion with calls due to Oregon's quick tempo.
"We didn't play up to our standard today," safety Brian Randolph said. "That's not Tennessee defense. We didn't play like we know how to play, but I think it was more on us than them."
Jones' first game on a national stage at Tennessee ended in a blowout, but Oregon is the nation's No. 2-ranked team and entered the game as a four-touchdown favorite for a reason.
For the Vols, though Oregon exposed their shortcomings in the depth and talent departments, it's about where they go from here with the SEC still looming.
"First of all, it better hurt," Jones said. "I told them this is unacceptable of playing football like this at the University of Tennessee. It's unacceptable, whether you lose by two or lose the way we lost. We expect to win football games around here. It better hurt.
"I think we need to invest more in the week. I need to see more guys in at night. I need to see our team in tomorrow. It's learning what it takes to play winning football, but staying together, and like I said, this team has grown. We've stayed together, and I don't think that's going to be an issue. We have great character young men in this program."
Said Randolph: "I think we're a good team. I feel like we just didn't come out to play today. It shows us that we need to grow up, but for the most part, this wasn't us.
"I think this team, we're going to bounce back. We're going to show what we're really made of next week. You see everybody's faces, no one likes to feel like this, so I feel like we're going to be able to get it back rolling."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
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 ...