Unfortunately for most SEC fans – and fans around the country – Tennessee-Oregon is played at the same time Alabama-Texas A&M, 3:30 PM ET. So, I’m sure you’ll be flipping back and forth, and when you do, here’s what to watch for:
Hurry-up: Through two weeks, one could make the argument that Oregon is the top team in the country. Despite losing Chip Kelly, their offense hasn’t missed a beat. The Ducks have scored 125 points and 17 TDs, second in the country only to Baylor. So, the scoring isn’t slowing down, but the total number of plays run is. The Ducks have run 140 total plays, and the 70-play average is down from 81 per game last season. That should work in Tennessee’s favor.
Slowing down: For Tennessee to pull a monumental upset, it’s going to take them dominating the time of possession. That’s not impossible when you factor in one of the top O-lines in the country and two more than capable backs in Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane. The Vols are averaging 28:50 minutes per game on offense, and they’ll need to hold it near 35 to 39 minutes. Lane and Neal have combined for 53 carries for 350 yards and seven touchdowns. QB Justin Worley has looked shaky at times, and in order for this upset to happen, Worley has to be an impact player, not just a very insulated game manager.
Red Zone: Tennessee will have to score TDs and be nearly flawless on both sides of the ball in the red zone Saturday. They’ve been doing a strong job thus far – 10 TDs in 14 trips, and that will need to continue against Oregon. The Ducks are 7th in total defense in the Pac-12, and they have allowed zero touchdowns in opponents’ four red zone appearances. On the flip, Oregon has scored 10 TDs in the red zone, while the Vols are the SEC’s top red zone defense, with opponents scoring just 50 percent of the time.
Turnovers: The Vols have to force turnovers and capitalize on them. Tennessee is +7 in TO margin, which tops the SEC, but Oregon’s execution has been nearly flawless. In fact, Oregon hasn’t even yielded a turnover through two weeks and stands +6 in margin. The Vols have forced nine total turnovers – seven INTs, and they must win the TO battle Saturday in order to pull off the upset.
Oregon player to watch: RB De-Anthony Thomas: 29 carries for 252 yards and five TDs, two catches for 30 yards
Tennessee player to watch: RB Rajion Neal: 31 carries for 215 yards and four TDs
Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports