It was a fiercely competitive contest for 34 minutes. Then, with the score tied at 13, the visitors scored three long-range touchdowns – one each on offense, defense and special teams – to break the game open.
The first TD was a 72-yard scrimmage burst by LaMichael James. The diminutive speedster started right, then reversed his field and outran Tennessee's pursuit down the left sideline, providing a 20-13 Oregon lead with 10:10 to play.
"On that long run I think we had six missed tackles," UT head coach Derek Dooley said. "What they (Ducks) do is, they wear on you. They get you tired, so you don't line up right, don't have the right eye control and you miss tackles. They've got special enough players to make you pay when you do that."
The Vols advanced to the Duck 27-yard line on their ensuing possession. On third-and-13, however, Matt Simms unloaded under duress. His throw to the East sideline was picked off by Cliff Harris, who returned the interception 76 yards for a score that bumped the lead to 27-13 with 6:27 remaining in the period.
A 29-yard pass from Darron Thomas to Lavasier Tuinei widened the gap to 34-13 early in the fourth quarter, then Kenjon Barner returned a Big Orange punt 80 yards as the lead swelled to 41-13. Oregon added another TD against weary Vol defenders in the game's final minutes to secure the final margin.
Dooley, clearly discouraged, felt his team mailed it in after the pick-six touchdown padded Oregon's lead to 27-13.
"After we throw the interception I was really disappointed from then on in how we competed," the coach said. "You would've thought we were down 40."
The youthful enthusiasm that carried the Vols throughout the first half appeared to devolve into a counteractive level of frustration at this point. They must learn to handle adversity better, especially with nationally ranked Florida, Alabama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina left on the schedule.
"We have to learn from it and grow as a program," Dooley said. "We hit some bad adversity in the third quarter and we didn't handle it. We couldn't do anything. We didn't tackle well, we didn't cover on kicks, we didn't run the ball worth anything.
"When you play a good team and you do that, you're going to get embarrassed. And that's what happened."
Tauren Poole was a bright spot for the Vols, rushing 23 times for 162 yards and a touchdown. Simms finished 15 of 29 passing for 151 yards but his pick-six was a game-changing mistake.
Middle linebacker Nick Reveiz, who led the Vols with 10 stops, said the Ducks deserve a lot of credit.
"They're a great team, and they beat our butts," Reveiz said. "They completely dismantled us."
Not in the beginning, however. Poole rambled 31 yards to the Oregon 49-yard line on Tennessee's initial scrimmage play. A 17-yard pass from Simms to Denarius Moore advanced the ball to the Duck 31 but the drive stalled at this point, forcing the Vols to settle for a 48-yard Daniel Lincoln field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Kenjon Barner returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards but fumbled, with UT's Prentiss Waggner recovering at the Duck 43-yard line. Freshman Da'Rick Rogers raced 21 yards on an end-around but the Vols had to settle for a 35-yard Lincoln field goal and a 6-0 lead with 8:53 left in the opening quarter.
At this point lightning strikes in the vicinity forced officials to suspend play, halting the game from 7:20-8:30 Eastern Time.
Oregon finally got the ball following the 70-minute layoff, promptly driving 51 yards to a 37-yard Rob Beard field goal that narrowed the gap to 6-3.
Tennessee answered immediately, however, Poole scoring on a one-yard plunge to cap a five-play, 69-yard drive that gave Tennessee a 13-3 lead.
Another Beard field goal – this time from 42 yards – pulled Oregon within 13-6. Still, with only 2:56 left to halftime, the Vols appeared destined to take a seven-point lead to the locker room. That would not be the case, however.
After a three-and-out by Tennessee's offense, the defense got careless. Oregon's Thomas hit tight end David Paulson with a 27-yard touchdown pass to complete a five-play, 62-yard drive that used just 51 seconds and produced a 13-13 halftime tie. The march was significantly aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty against UT cornerback Eric Gordon that turned a third-and-10 at Tennessee's 46-yard line into a first-and-10 at the Vol 31.
"I was proud of how we came out and competed early in the game," Dooley said, "but we screwed up the last three minutes of the half on all phases. We're sitting there in pretty good command of the game. Then we get a three-and-out, we don't change field position on the punt, then we have a bad penalty – not very smart – and we give up a big play.
"We went in at halftime tied, which is fine, but we didn't have a good look in our eye at halftime."
That look would turn to bewilderment later in the third quarter, when the Ducks began bombarding the Vols with one big play after another.