KNOXVILLE – It’s been four years since Tennessee and Oregon last faced off.
Both teams have a new coach. A vast majority of the rosters have turned over. That 48-13 Oregon win in Knoxville is really nothing but a blip on the radar of the recent past, but the Ducks made enough of an impression in that game that a few of UT’s remaining senior class still remember it.
“They were just a high-powered, high-tempo offense, that was my first impression,” said senior guard Zach Fulton, who played a few snaps as a true freshman against the Ducks. "It was exciting to see that type of team play. Freshman year I had big eyes, so I was excited to see everything.
“I remember they just took off on us in the second half. We have to avoid that.”
Stone recalled correctly. The Vols actually held a 13-3 lead against then-No. 7-ranked Oregon in Neyland Stadium. Then the rain came – literally and figuratively.
There was an hour-long weather delay in the first half that cooled Tennessee’s early momentum. Oregon quickly got back to doing what it does best – score on long plays. The Ducks piled on 45 unanswered points. There was a 72-yard touchdown run, a 76-yard interception return for a touchdown and an 80-yard punt return for a score.
“They were a great team,” said linebacker Brent Brewer, who played safety as a freshman in 2010 and saw playing time against the Ducks. “They just made us make mistakes. That’s what they live off of.”
Now the opportunity comes full circle for a senior class that was handed its first loss by Oregon in blowout fashion. The odds are similarly stacked against them. Perhaps this is a better overall roster than what UT began with at the beginning of the Derek Dooley era in 2010, but the road game factor must be considered too.
What would it mean to the senior class to pull off a better effort – even an upset – on Saturday?
“I think we’re a better team than three years ago,” Fulton said. “We’re better, so we should [give a better effort].”
• Out: WR Devrin Young, CB Michael F. Williams, TE Alex Ellis, TE Justin Meredith, CB Riyahd Jones, OL Jacob Gilliam, WR Ryan Jenkins, LB Greg King, LB Raiques Crump
• Limited: TE A.J. Branisel, LB Dontavis Sapp, DE Corey Vereen, S Brian Randolph
Jacques Smith (thumb) was back in full pads with a cast on his right hand for the first time since early in fall camp. Defensive end Corey Vereen (knee) was also back for the first time in pads since early in August, albeit in a non-contact jersey.
Linebacker Curt Maggitt (ACL) continued to practice at full speed. He hasn’t played yet this season despite practicing most of last week and going through warm-ups for the Western Kentucky game on Saturday.
• Freshman Josh Smith, who is bracketed with Jason Croom at one of the starting wide receiver spots on the depth chart, was the first one to line up with the first-team offense on Tuesday. Smith had three receptions for 36 yards against WKU. Croom dropped a pass that would’ve potentially been a big play for the Vols on Saturday.
• Tennessee is doing its best job to simulate some of what it will see at Oregon. Several players were wearing scout team jerseys with the number of one of the Ducks’ star players:
- Quarterback Josh Dobbs was wearing No. 8 to simulate quarterback Marcus Mariota.
- Running back Alden Hill was wearing No. 9 to simulate running back Byron Marshall.
- Receiver Drae Bowles was wearing No. 1 to simulate receiver Josh Huff.
- Defensive back Michael L. Williams was wearing No. 6 to simulate running back De’Anthony Thomas (Not 100-percent sure on this one, players can be hard to identify when not in their normal number).
• As expected, the Vols practiced with some noise piped into practice. The Oregon fight song was played at one point in addition to many of the other annoying noises Jones regularly uses during practice such as a crying baby, glass breaking and wailing sirens.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga