Gators seek red-zone progress vs. suspect Vols defense
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The tweets started to pop up in the second half as the score grew wider and wider.
This one from ESPN's Pac-12 blog got a lot of play on Twitter: Oregon is clearing its bench with four minutes left in the third quarter against an SEC team.
The second-ranked Ducks, in their 59-14 victory over Tennessee on Saturday, scored 59 unanswered points after the Vols grabbed the early lead. By the time the third quarter was over, Oregon led by 52 and had amassed 658 yards of total offense -- the most an SEC team has allowed through three quarters over the past 10 years.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for a career-high 456 yards and four touchdowns as the Ducks finished with 687 yards against a Tennessee defense that never had a chance.
Known for its high-powered, up-tempo offense under former coach Chip Kelly, the Vols learned not much has changed in Eugene since Kelly left for the NFL and was replaced by Mark Helfrich, his offensive coordinator the past four seasons.
Oregon's offensive explosion caught everyone's attention, including Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
Coming off a 21-16 loss at Miami, the Gators had a bye week and some of the players and coaches watched the Oregon-Tennessee game with the Vols coming to town Saturday in the SEC opener for both schools.
With Oregon's up-tempo offense racing up and down the field against the Vols as if on the Autobahn, Pease took notes. Still, don’t look for the Gators to scrap their playbook and try to duplicate the Ducks' offense.
That is no easy task.
"It's always interesting to do some of that," Pease said Tuesday. "You have to understand how they have built this thing for the last five to six years, their kids and how dialed in they are. It's tough for us to say 'that's us' all of a sudden.
"We practice it. You saw us do it a little bit last year to start off games, kind of to get the kids in a flow. It's something we always have prepared."
Facing a Tennessee defense that features eight starters who are juniors or seniors, the Ducks scored touchdowns on eight of nine drives during one stretch. Oregon put together scoring drives of 37, 78, 80, 80, 92, 73, 89 and 63 yards.
The Ducks' longest touchdown drive in time of possession: 2 minutes, 18 seconds.
That is an up-tempo offense running on high octane.
"We're probably more designed to go six to 12 plays in a drive, rather than three to four, and hold onto the ball for more than two minutes in a drive," Pease said. "We have to make sure our components are going to fit to what we feel are our match-ups and how we attack teams."
The Gators are averaging 414 yards per game through two games, which ranks 11th in the conference. Meanwhile, Tennessee's defense is 11th in the league, surrendering an average of 430.3 yards per game. In wins over Austin Peay and Western Kentucky to start the season under first-year coach Butch Jones, the Vols allowed 302 yards per game.
That average got blown up by the Ducks.
As Jones prepares to bring the Volunteers to town for his first game in The Swamp, he is focused on trying to flush last week's blowout from his team's psyche.
“Right now, moving forward, we are not a very mentally tough football team," Jones said Monday. "Everything we do in our football program is about mental conditioning, mental toughness, and when you go on the road you have to have a road focus about yourself."
Tennessee senior defensive line Daniel Hood has yet to win a game against the Gators. The Vols have lost eight in a row in the series, last winning in 2004.
Hood is concerned about the loss at Oregon having a lingering effect like some early season losses in recent seasons for the Vols. Tennessee is 1-23 against Top 25 teams since 2008 and has lost 17 in a row to ranked opponents.
"We never really developed that mental toughness last season to overcome the bad things that happened," Hood told reporters Monday. "We can't let that happen this time. We've got to follow Coach Jones's rule about Snap and Clear. You've got to forget about it, clear it from your mind."
The Gators' goal is to do something that delivers a flashback for the Vols' defense. An early touchdown or two in the red zone would be ideal after Florida went 1-for-6 on scoring touchdowns inside the red zone at Miami.
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said during the bye week the Gators focused on ball security and decision-making, starting with him.
"No one's been able to stop us when we haven't had a turnover or a penalty, so just worry about us first and then taking care of the other team second," Driskel said. "If we can handle us, we'll be fine. On an off-week you do work on yourself before you get into your opponent, so it timed out well for us."
Pease took some of the blame Monday for the offense's lack of execution at critical moments in the loss at Miami. One drive ended on a quarterback sneak that Miami's defensive line squeezed out. Pease said he should have called a different play in that situation.
The Gators plan to mix it up against a Tennessee defense that looked very fragile at Oregon. Just don't expect the Gators to hurry up and down the field the way the Ducks did.
"There's some things you can draw from (what Oregon did)," Pease said. "But in the same sense, what we told our kids, you gotta throw that out because one, this is the SEC, they're coming here to play us and it’s a rivalry game. They gotta understand that the passion between the two teams and probably some hatred between the two teams and the competition level of what you’re gonna get from them, you’re gonna get their best shot.
"You can't say, 'Well, gosh, we're running this same play that Oregon ran.' There's different situation of circumstances there of how the flow of the game went compared to what we're probably gonna be in."