Wilcox no wizard

Justin Wilcox says there was no magic involved in stopping Oregon's high-powered offense last fall. Maybe not, but it was a pretty neat trick - one Tennessee fans hope he can recreate Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

Wilcox's 2009 Boise State defense limited the Ducks' vaunted spread-option attack to 152 yards and 8 points in the '09 opener for both teams. To put that in perspective: Oregon averaged 433.7 yards and 38.3 points per game in its other 12 outings last fall. The Ducks piled up 613 yards in a 47-20 defeat of No. 4 USC and 524 yards in a 42-3 blowout of No. 6 Cal. Then, to show that last year was no fluke, they put 720 yards and 72 points on New Mexico in their 2010 opener last weekend.

If there is some mystical secret to shutting down Oregon, however, Wilcox is honoring the magician's code and keeping it to himself.

"There is no magic defense out there, no magic pill or any of that stuff," the Vols' first-year defensive coordinator said following Wednesday's practice. "Obviously, against option teams you've got to play disciplined, you've got to play assignment football and you've got to tackle well.

"There are going to be times when you've got to make one-on-one plays - in the pass game and in the run game - and you've got to get people on the ground, especially with these guys."

That's because Oregon's top two running backs - LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner - are track sprinters capable of turning each missed tackle into six points. And quarterback Darron Thomas is no slowpoke, either.

"They create so much space and they've got such good speed; that's their advantage," Wilcox said. "That's how they create those explosive plays: They get one-on-one, a guy makes somebody miss, and it's an explosive play."

The coordinator said last spring he has more fast players at Tennessee than he had at Boise State. When asked to compare the two teams' defensive talent today, however, he politely declined.

"I don't like comparing players or programs," he said. "I think we've got a lot of great kids on this team. We're working hard and we're making progress in a lot of areas - on the field and off the field ... how to practice, how to finish in practice, how to finish in games. The guys are working at it, and we're getting better and better."

Tennessee's defense looked awesome in Game 1, limiting UT Martin to 142 yards and 2 first downs in a 50-0 romp. The Skyhawks are a Football Championship Subdivision team, however, whose skill level in no way compares to Oregon's. Still, the same techniques that applied last Saturday apply this Saturday - playing good assignment football and making sure tackles.

"Again, these games come down to fundamentals," Wilcox said. "It's not some magic thing that you do this week. It's a process of learning how to finish things, and that's what this is all about."

Tennessee did an excellent job of finishing in Game 1, rarely allowing a ball-carrier to escape once he was hit. The tackling appeared superior.

"I think we're better than we were," Wilcox said. "I don't think we're where we need to be. The second part of that is everybody running to the football. Inevitably, you're going to miss a tackle now and then, so you've got to have the other 10 guys running to the football to cover up for a mistake now and then."

Wilcox was born in Eugene, Ore., and earned second-team All-Pac 10 honors as a senior cornerback at Oregon in 1999. He says facing his alma mater has no impact on his approach to this game, however.

"My allegiance lies with the kids in this program," he said. "I haven't been here a long time, but when you work with the coaches here and the kids on the field put it on the line every day for you, it's not hard to have an allegiance to 'em.

"I'm proud to be from there. Some of my best friends in the world I made there and some coaches I played for are still there. I love those guys and what they gave to me but on this day it's not about me and them. It's about Tennessee versus Oregon.

"And I have no problem trying to do my part to help us win."

Still, Wilcox says his "part" will include no smoke and mirrors. That isn't his style. So, how did he shut down Oregon last season?

"Our offense played great," he said. "Our defense played really well. We were able to get 'em out of some rhythm. It was kind of a perfect storm."

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