Historically, Oregon football hasn’t fared well against SEC opponents. The Ducks are 4-6 all-time versus the conference, their last two losses being particularly significant, a 22-19 loss to Auburn in the 2010/11 national championship, and a 40-27 defeat to LSU to open the 2011 season.
But this weekend Oregon faces a familiar foe in Tennessee. In fact, Oregon’s last win against an SEC school came against the Volunteers, a 48-13 rout in Knoxville three years ago.
But time is a factor, and the 2013 Vols are much different than the 2010 squad.
“They have a veteran crew and they’re good,” said defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti of Tennessee. “I like their o-line. I like their team. This is an SEC team, it’s a good football team with good athletes. They have been down some, 2-0 this year though. It’s a new year, new coach, new energy.” Tennessee has finished with a 5-7 record in three of the last five seasons, which have featured four different head coaches.
First year head coach Butch Jones comes to Tennessee from Cincinnati, where he went 23-14 in three seasons and led the Bearcats to the top of the Big East standings each of the last two seasons. Aliotti says the Tennessee offense is much like that of Cincinnati’s, with similarities to Oregon’s.
“They’re Cincinnati’s offense. Really they’re a lot of what we do. There’s always nuances to your offense … but they’re completely different than what they were to the last Tennessee team,” Aliotti said.
Head coach Mark Helfrich attested to the overall talent level, saying the players are the most athletic they’ve played this season.
“They’re really talented [on] both sides of the ball,” Helfrich said. “Typical SEC — big, huge up front on the offensive line. Very physical, very athletic. Fast, physical, huge defensive line. Really athletic on the back ends. They’re by far the most athletic team that we’ve played to date.”
Helfrich mentioned two players that specifically stood out on defense; six foot eight inch, 351 pound senior nose tackle Daniel McCullers and junior middle linebacker A.J. Johnson.
“[Johnson] is a great sideline to sideline guy, a really good cover guy, gets his hands on receivers and makes a ton of plays everywhere,” said Helfrich of Johnson.
Helfrich and Aliotti both spoke highly of the Vols’ offensive line, which features a junior and four seniors.
“Their o-line is good, first of all,” said Aliotti. “They’re a veteran crew, they’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical. Probably the best offensive line we’ve faced in some time really.” The average size of the aforementioned group is six feet four inches, 312 pounds.