After a rocky start, Oregon put on an encore performance to their 48-13 rout of Tennessee in 2010. The Ducks cruised to a 59-14 win, improving to 3-0 on the season. Early on it didn’t look like either team would coast to victory. Oregon’s typically smooth and efficient offense was inconsistent and sloppy early on, committing four first quarter penalties including two false starts. Marcus Mariota balked on his first three pass attempts, completely missing intended receivers.
Defensively the Ducks allowed a big play on Tennessee’s second drive, a 51-yard completion from Justin Worley to Josh Smith, setting up a four-yard end zone connection from Worley to Jason Croom. The Tennessee lead was the first for any Oregon opponent this season, but it would be short lived. Mariota found freshman tight end Johnny Mundt for a 16-yard touchdown, putting oregon on top 10-7 after a Matt Wogan 38-yard field goal.
After starting 2-for-7 in the passing game, Mariota found his rhythm and finished the first half 15-for 22 with 350 passing yards, which was already a season-high, and three touchdowns. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his Oregon career with a 20-yard run in the first quarter and finished the first half with 12 yards on five carries after losing yards on two sacks.
The defense found its stride as well. After allowing the touchdown Oregon forced Tennessee to punt on each of their next nine possessions, including six three-and-outs. The Ducks held what had been an efficient offense to a season-low 316 yards, allowing 14 first downs. Brian Jackson led the way for the Ducks, recording six total tackles. Tennessee’s defense had forced nine turnovers entering Saturday’s game, tying them for first in the country, but failed to record any takeaways in the loss.
Mariota ran in a score from nine yards out on the first play of the second quarter, capping off a five-play, 78-yard drive spanning 1:40. It was Mariota’s fourth rushing touchdown of the year, closing him in on his total of five from last season. Each of Oregon’s next three drives lasted under two minutes and all ended in touchdowns. Mariota and Josh Huff connected for a 54-yard catch and run, followed by a 45-yarder to Daryle Hawkins on fourth down. De’Anthony Thomas ended the half with a 28-yard rushing touchdown, increasing the Ducks’ lead to 38-7.
Mundt made some noise in his Oregon debut. With Colt Lyerla ruled out due to flu-like symptoms, Mundt was a go-to target for Mariota in the passing game. Mundt had four catches for 104 yards and a score in the first half, all career firsts, and added another score in the third and finished with five receptions for 121 yards and two trips to the end zone.
“Johnny Mundt is another guy that just works his tail off,” said Mark Helfrich of the true freshman. “Had a great week of practice and [I'm] really, really happy for him and for our guys. He’s one of those guys that you can’t help but like and just works really hard. [The] team’s going crazy for how well he played.” Mundt replaced the usual starter Lyerla, who didn’t play due to flu like symptoms, or what Helfrich called, “circumstances.” Lyerla’s been a huge weapon for Oregon, and now it appears that the Ducks have two reliable tight ends.
“We’ll see going forward,” said Helfrich on Mundt’s future involvement in the offense. “You learn a lot about those guys as they get hit in the face by an All-SEC defensive end and bounce back and play like that… so going forward we’ll see how his role changes, adepts, etc.”
Byron Marshall had a quiet day but added a touchdown of his own, an 11 yard scamper to put Oregon up 52-7. Freshman running back Thomas Tyner tacked on a two-yard run to close out the third quarter with Oregon dominating, 59-7.
The Volunteers responded with a touchdown of their own on an eight-yard Alden Hill touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. This would be the last score of the game.
The story of the day was Mariota and the Oregon offense. After a sluggish start, Mariota set a new career high for passing yards with 456, the first Oregon quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards since Kellen Clemens in 2005.
“I had no idea,” said Mariota on his yardage total. “I just want to make the most of every play. As the game wore on I felt in a rhythm throwing so I think coach Helfrich and coach Frost felt that too, so we kept throwing the ball.”
His chemistry with Huff and Mundt was off the charts, as both pass catchers had career days. Huff tied a career-high with 125 yards on six catches, and Mundt made his name known by showing a strong running style, comparable to Lyerla.
“We just worked with each other a lot during the offseason and I’ve done everything I can to let him know that whenever [he's] in doubt, just come to me and I’ll take care of [him],” said Huff on his chemistry with Mariota this season. ”I feel like he trusts me very well right now. He’s like a best friend to me on and off the field, so to have that type of relationship with a quarterback like that is unbelievable.”
Worley finished his day with 126 passing yards, completing 13 of 26 passes. Smith led the way in receiving with his lone 51-yard catch and the Vols’ two-headed running attack of Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane combined to gain 105 yards.
The Vols are now 2-1 and their schedule doesn’t get any easier. Four of their next five games are against top 25 opponents, including ninth ranked Georgia and two-time reigning BCS champion and top ranked Alabama.
Oregon has a bye week before beginning Pac-12 play against Cal at home.