Daunting Ducks

The 2010 Oregon offense Tennessee faces Saturday night is kind of a cross between the Florida and Alabama attacks the Vols faced in 2009. That's a sobering thought, since the Tide and Gators finished No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, last fall.

Oregon resembles '09 Florida in terms of scheme (spread option), quarterback (mobile) and approach (speed kills). It resembles Alabama's '09 attack in terms of rushing talent (two top-notch runners).

After watching film of the Ducks, Vol linebacker Austin Johnson conceded that they are "a little bit like Florida. They're a fast team with a lot of misdirection, so you've always got to stay on your toes and know where the ball's going."

Like Florida, Oregon uses its spread formation to create natural gaps in the defense for its diminutive but dynamic running backs. LaMichael James (5-9, 185) and Kenjon Barner (5-11, 180) are virtual clones of 2009 Gator tailbacks Jeff Demps (5-8, 185) and Chris Rainey (5-9, 176) in terms of size and sprinter speed. Both James and Barner ran legs on the Duck squad that finished fourth in the 4x100 relay at the Pac 10 Track Championships last spring.

James rushed for 1,546 yards in 2009 en route to being named Pac 10 Offensive Freshman of the Year. He sat out the 2010 opener but wasn't missed. Barner stepped into the starting role and averaged 8.6 yards per carry on his way to 147 yards as the Ducks routed New Mexico 72-0. Tennessee head man Derek Dooley can think of only one other tandem as talented as Oregon's - Alabama's Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.

"Them and Bama probably (have) the two best running back combinations that you'll see in the country," Dooley said, facetiously adding: "They had the best runner out, and you see how bad that hurt them last week. Nobody ever stops them. You've just got to slow them down and try to be sound fundamentally."

In addition to the two burners at running back, Oregon has a quarterback with some mobility. Darron Thomas (6-3, 212) is no Tim Tebow but he must be accounted for as a running threat.

"They're playing with 11 guys, not 10," Dooley said. "We play with 10 (because the QB is not a running threat). I know that sounds funny, but the way the quarterback's a threat as a runner, you're short a guy."

Thomas completed 13 of 23 passes for 220 yards in his debut start vs. New Mexico. Still, he poses nowhere near the problem for Tennessee's defense that the James/Barner tailback tandem does.

"Let's hope they're not in at the same time," Dooley said. "They're good."


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