Vols expect defensive test in facing Oregon

Tennessee hosts nationally-ranked Oregon Saturday night at 7 p.m. (ESPN2).

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas throws against New Mexico in the first quarter during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- If there's a more explosive offense in the country than Oregon's, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley hasn't found it.

He's well aware that the Volunteers' defense is in for a true test when the No. 11 Ducks come to town on Saturday.

The Tennessee defense was dominant in a 50-0 win over Tennessee-Martin on Saturday stopping runners at the line of scrimmage, snaring two interceptions and keeping UT Martin out of the red zone.

They'll get a much better idea of what kind of defense they really are against Oregon's speedy spread offense led by quarterback Darron Thomas, a threat in both the passing and running game, and LaMichael James, who rushed last season for 1,546 yards.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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Derek Dooley media day transcript:

“Just to recap the game, not a lot of new news from what I saw on the field. I was real proud of how the team came out of locker room. My biggest concern to start the game was how we managed our anxiety, and it was important that we didn’t go out there and lose focus and do some things that seem simple day-to-day but don’t look so simple on game day. So that was what I was most pleased about in the beginning.

“We came out, we were playing fast. We were executing. We were getting hats on hats on offense. The runners were running hard. And so I think it gave us a real boost early in the game. Obviously dominated the game. We did have some breakdowns that are going to be costly when we play some more talented opponents, and we’ve got to correct those things. We failed to score in the red zone all because of the breakdowns, penalties, that sort of thing. And there’s a lot of other little issues that we needed to correct.

“I felt like we had a good game on special teams. If you look at all the phases, we controlled the vertical field position of the game, and I think that’s what made it hard on their offense. They were always, they had a long way to go. I mean, we netted 40 yards a punt, which is really good. Two inside the 10. Their drive start after a kickoff averaged at the 20, which is really good. Our drive start after their kickoff was about the 42, which is really good. The only phase we did a poor job on was punt return. We made our field goals. I’m concerned about where we are on punt return, because we should never have a mishandled punt, and we didn’t execute very well.

“Our players of the week this week. We give these out every week as a coaching staff. I mean, it’s no big deal, but I’m just letting you know. We gave it to Tauren Poole and Denarius Moore, and our defense to Austin Johnson and Prentiss Waggner, and Daniel Lincoln on special teams.

“Our injury situation right now, Gerald Jones is out for Oregon. Suffered, I guess you can say, a broken hand or a little bone in the hand. I don’t know all the specifics, but he’s definitely out for Oregon and I think he’s probably definitely out the next game too. Unfortunate, but that’s part of football. Jarrod Shaw and Denarius Moore a little banged up at the ankle, and they’re just day-to-day. We’ll see how they progress.

“Looking ahead at Oregon, Pac-10 champions, a lot of confidence. What you see on the film, you see great coaching, and you see a very talented football team. You see a team that you can tell they’re experienced. As good as they were last year, I think they have 17 guys back out of 22, and it shows. They’re fast. They play physical. They’re very disciplined. They’re excellent on special teams, and they’re just a high-level ballclub on all phases. There’s just not any weakness, so it’s going to be one heck of a challenge for us. We’re going to get ready to go. That’s all I got.”

On injuries at wide receiver:

“Well, Zach will start if Gerald’s out, Zach Rogers, and he’ll do well. But the freshman, yeah, we’re going to have to bring them along a little quicker than we probably anticipated. But that’s why we signed them, because we don’t have a lot of depth. That’s kind of where we are at that position. It’s really sort of a microcosm of a lot of other positions. We have some seniors, and we have some freshmen. That’s where we are.”

On freshmen receivers against Martin:

“They didn’t really have a lot of opportunity, you know. Da’Rick (Rogers) caught a pass, which is always good to get that first one under your belt. He looked calm, and it seemed very simple. But he looked good doing it.

“But once Tyler went in, especially in the fourth quarter, I just didn’t think it was right to throw the ball. I would have liked to get them to run some routes and throw them some balls, but I just didn’t think that was the right thing to do as a coach. We can develop them the next week.”

Is Da’Rick Rogers the other option at Gerald’s position besides Zach?

“Yeah, and Justin (Hunter) backs up Denarius.”

Where is Rogers in his overall development?

“Made a lot of strides the last couple weeks. Struggled a little bit early in camp. Justin showed up a lot early in camp, then Justin of course got put on the shelf, so that set him back. Da’Rick has done well the last couple of weeks, so we expect him to get better every week.”

How behind is Justin Hunter right now?

“He’s OK. He just needs to get out there and play. I don’t know how to quantify how behind he is. He’s a true freshman, so you don’t know how much further along he would be if he would have had eight more practices. He’d be further along, but how much, it’s hard to say. The best experience is to get out there and play. They’ll certainly have that chance Saturday.”

How much bigger is the challenge for your 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. And you’ve got to play well on offense.”

On (Justin) Wilcox’s experience against spread-option offenses:

“It’s funny, because his biggest adjustment in this league is the old-fashioned two-back power, because he didn’t have to defend it much at Boise. He even acknowledged it. The game has evolved a lot to that, but this league is still a little bit more traditional than the rest of the country.

“Was it a factor (in hiring Wilcox)? I think the factor was being multiple and having to defend everything. Certainly, you want a coordinator who’s proven he’s done that, and Justin did. So it wasn’t just focused on the spread, because I know in this league you’ve got to be able to stop hard-nosed football.”

Florida does some of that type of stuff too.

“They do. Mississippi State does. Bama doesn’t. Georgia doesn’t. LSU is kind of in between. So it’s a mix.”

How similar is what Oregon does to Florida?

“They’re a little different in some ways. Every spread offense has their own little families of stuff they do. It all kind of comes from their coaching tree and where they started. We saw a lot of what Florida did with Utah State. I think there’s that background at Utah and Utah State. They’re all a little different. It’s just like a pro style. Everybody’s a little different, and I think there’s elements of some spread in what we do, even though it didn’t look like it. There’s elements of some pro style every now and then and some spread things. It’s just a multiple deal.

“These guys are good because they believe in their system. They have very good coaches, and they have phenomenal players. It doesn’t matter what you run. When you have those three combinations, you’re going to be pretty good on offense.”

On Matt Simms’ dad’s involvement:

“What did he say?”

He said his dad wanted practice film, and he told him he couldn’t get it to him.

“Matt’s well trained. That’s good for Matt.

“It can be a plus, it can be a negative. It’s no different than the Little League dads you go out and see. I have a lot of respect for Matt’s father. I know him. I’ve appreciated how he’s handled the whole situation. I’ve had one conversation with him when I got the job, and that was it. I think that says a lot about -- he’s making it very clear he doesn’t want to be Matt’s quarterback coach or meddle in the situation, and I appreciate that.

“Every dad is probably coaching their son at some level. That’s just how it is. The good news for Matt is that his dad actually played and has some pretty good knowledge.”

Are you more meticulous when you’re going through film with new starters?

“I’m pretty much the same. I’m probably a little harder, because the expectations to me are the same no matter who it is. The expectation is its 100 percent perfect execution. I don’t know any other way to say it. We didn’t give them too much to where that’s an unreasonable standard. It would’ve been unreasonable if we’d tried to go out there and do 8 million things and expected that. The standard never changes in what we expect, and we’ve got to make sure the standard is fair. You can make it unfair.”

On handling administrative duties Saturday after listing 26 things to fix following mock game:

“We cleaned up a lot of issues, and I thought the administration of the game was great by our coaching staff. But let me preface that by saying it was an easy game to administer. There weren’t a lot of headaches because of what was happening on the field. The players were playing so well and executing so well, it just made it easy on the coaches. We’ll have a little different test this week.”

Did Rajion Neal earn more playing time this week?

“It was good to see Rajion. He showed his ability and a couple of those runs looked fresh out of high school. He could get hurt if he tries a couple of those cuts next week. So we’ve got to kind of tone him down a little bit. He got away with some things, but it was good to see his ability. He’s coming along.

He’s another one like Da’Rick; in the last couple weeks he’s really made a lot of progress. Probably shell-shocked a little bit early in camp. It was good to get him some snaps.”

Is Oregon equally fast on offense and defense?

“And special teams, too. They are a fast, fast football team. There’s a lot of talk about talent on the west coast and in California, and you see it. That’s where you see it. They’re the Pac-10 champs, and you see why.”

How do you feel about your team speed?

“I want to see it against the Oregons of the world and in our league before I give an answer on that.”

Is Oregon’s offense a lot of up-tempo?

“Yeah. I mean, when they go on a 10-play drive, it takes them about two minutes to do. It’s the fastest offense you’ll see. If we go on a 10-play drive, it may take us a quarter to get it done. Which is fine with me.”

Do they attack the edges with speed guys? When they come up the middle, are you worried about your defensive tackles at all?

“You have to play with such great discipline. The whole philosophy of the offense is create space for your athletes. That’s what you do. When you allow them to create space and some vertical seams, they do a lot of stuff sideways, laterally and then once they see the seam.

“They do a great job of it, so we’re going to have to play with great discipline because there’s a lot of assignment football involved in it. A lot of it’s the single wing. That’s what it is. They’re playing with 11 guys, not 10. We play with 10. I know that sounds funny, but the way the quarterback’s a threat as a runner, you’re short a guy. You take those principles, and there’s assignment football involved in it. There’s veer option principles, there’s speed option principles, there’s a lot of things involved. And then you’ve got to play with tremendous effort and run to the football because even though it’s assignment football, you’ve got to do a great job tackling. If one guy misses, it can’t be a house call. So everybody’s got to rally. So everybody kind of has a man and a half, if that makes sense.”

Coaching in the WAC, an offensive-minded league, does that help you manage a game against a team with a lot of playmakers like Oregon has?

“I’m not sure. I think it’s probably helped Justin because he’s defended a lot. It doesn’t mean he’s going to stop them. It just means you don’t you’ll look at the film and go, ‘Oh, what are they doing?’ Nevada runs some things. They run that pistol. I mentioned Utah State runs a lot of the spread stuff, so it’s just experience. The game management will drive you nuts a little bit because I’m kind of from the old-school, you know, the field position, the clock. And this throws all that out the window.”

How much does it help that Justin’s actually faced Oregon two years in a row, and you also have Peter (Sirmon), who was in their huddles last year?

“Neither of them are out there playing. So I’m not sure it’s an advantage as what you all might try to make it out to be. A lot of teams have played Oregon. USC plays them every year, and they put about 41 on them last year. So that didn’t help.”

He held them to eight points at Boise, though.

“They did. I think they learned their lesson from that. They caught them at the right time, obviously. They didn’t play well, and it was their first game of the year. You can see how they fixed that problem. They put up 72 this week.”

What does Oregon’s young quarterback contribute to that offense?

“Well, he’s managing the offense, and he’s getting it to the good guys, which is what a good quarterback does. I think because they’re so experienced and talented around him, it really makes his job a lot easier. Probably a little easier than what the last guy had to do last year. All those other guys around him have come into their own. They’re confident, and all he’s got to do is distribute the ball.”

What about having LaMichael James back this week?

“Yeah, what about him? We’ve got two guys, so let’s hope they’re not in at the same time. They’re good.”

What can you tell us about Zach Rogers?

“I think Zach is one of the more underrated players we have. He had an excellent camp. He’s a little bit like Old Man River. He just kind of does his job. He does it well. Not a flashy personality guy. He’s faster than people think, and he’s got good hands. He’s just a good, dependable player. I think he’s going to get better and better. I have no issues with Zach.”

On defensive tackle rotation:

“We played a lot of guys. We’ll know more these next few weeks. It was hard to evaluate. We were just a lot more talented. I don’t know any other way to say it. It’s hard to really say, ‘Hey, you’re a great player because you played great.’”

On David Oku returning punts:

“I don’t know if he is the No. 1 guy. We’ve got to figure all that out. The first day of spring, I came off the field and I said I’m nervous about our punt return situation. I think I mentioned it to you guys back in the spring. It showed. We’ll see. We’re pulling out old high school film on some of these guys to reevaluate where we are.”

Can you discuss candidates there?

“Of course, David’s been back there so he’s experienced. Janzen has some playmaking ability. Eric Gordon does. Justin Hunter does. Those are four right there. I always want a guy who can change the game back there, but you want them to change the game for you. I think Gerald misunderstood me when I told him. I said, ‘We need a game changer back there.’ He almost changed the game.”

Could you see a scenario where Austin Johnson pushes Nick Reveiz for the starting job?

“Well, we play a lot of guys on defense. I don’t think he’ll push Nick, but he’ll push to play a lot. There’s more than mike linebacker, so there may be times when he and Nick are on the field at the same time. But he’s earned the right to play, no question. He’s got to keep doing it.”

On Johnson:

“That’s what we try to do. As a head coach, you are always evaluating guys and hope you put them in the right position where they can play the best and help the team. The jury’s still out on Austin. We’ve only played one game. He did a good job, though. But he’s had a good camp. All those guys that played well, you all heard me talk about them all through training camp. I talked about Oku, he’s having a real good camp. Goes out and plays well. Austin Johnson having a great camp, goes out and plays well.”

How would you evaluate the running game?

“I would say still the jury’s out. We’ve only played one team that we were a lot more talented than, and the jury’s out. It was good we had success. I don’t want to minimize the job the players did, because there were a lot of other teams that were more talented than their opponent, and they didn’t play well. So I’m proud of how we played, but that’s Game 1 and we’ve got Oregon this week. That’s where I am.”

On not being overconfident after Martin:

“Well, if they look at the film and they get overconfident, then we’ve got a bigger problem. We’ve got an intelligence issue that we have to deal with. And then I’ll probably send them to Thornton Center for a little work. If I’ve got to worry about that this week, we’ve got bigger issues than you guys can ever even imagine.”


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