Tennessee still has a long way to go before it can end its recent history of frustration against ranked opponents.
After victories over Austin Peay and Western Kentucky gave Tennessee cause for optimism, No. 2 Oregon handed the Volunteers a cold slap of reality Saturday. Oregon’s 59-14 victory represented Tennessee’s most one-sided varsity loss since 1910 and revealed how much work remains in new coach Butch Jones’ rebuilding project.
“This will not be tolerated,” Jones said. “We can never, ever accept this performance.”
Jones and the Vols (2-1) don’t have much time to get things corrected. Oregon (3-0) was the first of five ranked opponents in a six-game stretch, which continues next week when Tennessee visits No. 19 Florida (1-1). The Vols have lost 17 straight games against ranked opponents and have dropped their last eight meetings with the Gators.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” Jones said. “We just have to keep going to work every day. That’s the only way you can do it.”
Oregon exposed all of Tennessee’s weaknesses.
After playing solid defense in its first two games, the Vols couldn’t handle Oregon’s speed and looked more like the team that gave up the most points (35.7) and yards (471.4) per game of any team in the Southeastern Conference last season. Oregon gained 687 yards in total offense and scored touchdowns on eight straight possessions at one point. Marcus Mariota threw for 456 yards and four touchdowns while frequently finding receivers all alone downfield.
“It’s a wakeup call on our preparation,” defensive end Corey Miller said. “It’s a wakeup call on our mental focus. ... There’s a lot we have to correct. It’s definitely a shock to us, but we’ve got to continue to push.”
Tennessee’s offense lacks the big-play ability Oregon showed all day. Justin Worley threw a 51-yard pass to Josh Smith that set up Tennessee’s first touchdown, but the Vols had just 87 yards passing the rest of the game. Jones also didn’t like how Oregon controlled the line of scrimmage and prevented Tennessee from establishing its running game. Although the Vols rushed for 178 yards, much of that production came after the game was out of hand.
The Vols now must search for answers while addressing depth issues.
Tennessee’s defensive line suffered a blow earlier in the week when Maurice Couch was declared ineligible while the university investigates a Yahoo Sports report that he accepted improper benefits. Couch’s absence created more playing time for Trevarris Saulsberry, who got hurt against Oregon and was on crutches at the end of the game.
The offense was missing injured receivers Alton “Pig” Howard, Devrin Young and Johnathon Johnson against Oregon. Linebacker Curt Maggitt still hasn’t played this season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last November, though he has practiced the last couple of weeks.
“We need to regroup,” Jones said. “It’s a very, very long season. We have a lot of individuals who are extremely prideful. We’re going to find out our competitive character and our leadership.”
The Vols believe that pride won’t allow them to repeat this performance.
“We’re going to bounce back,” safety Brian Randolph said. “We’re going to show what we’re really made of next week. You see everybody’s face. No one likes to feel like this.”