Tennessee dominated the game for the first six minutes. They forced a three and out from the Oregon offense, shut down the Ducks without any points after giving up a fumble, drove 80 yards in six plays for a 7-0 lead with 9:00 to play in the first quarter.
The visitors looked poised and in command, and at that point, the Ducks looked flat and disorganized. A block in the back penalty negated a good return on the opening kickoff by De’Anthony Thomas. Mariota missed awkwardly on several of his his early throws, starting the game 2-8. An illegal procedure penalty stalled the opening drive.
Despite getting an early break when Tennessee fumbled on their second offensive play, the Ducks couldn’t capitalize on the rip and strip, recovered by Rodney Hardrick. Taking over on the Volunteer 30 they got one first down but stalled when Josh Huff dropped a pass and Mariota threw high to Addison. Then Maldonado missed wide right from 30 yards.
The Vols drove 80 yards in six plays for a 7-0 lead, the big strike coming on a wide open crossing pattern for 51 yards.
At that point, the Ducks were not executing in any phase of the game, and Tennessee looked poised and better prepared. A few fans were already grumbling about another poor start for Mariota.
Grumbles grew a little louder when Mariota missed again, wide right to Huff, and DAT took a zone read left, stuffed after a yard.
Third and 9 on 37, and Mariota hit his first big completion of the day, a beautiful fade route down the right sideline to Bralon Addison for 38 yards. A DAT run for two, then the next play Mariota kept right for 20 yards, getting a great block from a pulling Hroniss Grasu, Ducks down to 4 with a chance to take the lead.
Back in business? No. A bad snap resulted in a 6-yard loss. Protection breaks down and Mariota is sacked for the first time this season, all the way back to the 15. The play clock nearly runs out, the Ducks calling timeout on the sideline with a second left. Thomas sprints right down to 5. Called back, illegal block. Penalty declined, Ducks go for it on 4th and 5, with a wide-open De’Anthony Thomas grabbing a td pass in the right corner. Nope. Called back for pass interference, an obvious pick by Bralon Addison. Ducks settle for a field goal, Matt Wogan kicking this time, punched through to trail 7-3 with 5:45 to go in the first quarter.
The defense makes good adjustments and forces a three and out. Bralon Addison gets a big punt return 40 yards to the Tennessee 37, showing some nifty moves, spinning and weaving, setting up his blocks.
And on first and 10, Josh Huff takes a bubble screen left for 9 yards, but the Tennessee defender makes an athletic play and punches the ball out. Tennessee recovers, ahead 7-3 with major momentum.
Except, the play is under review. The replay official rules Huff’s elbow was down, and the Ducks get to keep the ball. Thomas takes a stretch play right for 9 yards, another for 8, and Mariota finds Mundt in the left flat for a 16-yard score, Mundt bashing over a tackler at the goal line, the elusive qb doing a great job of avoiding the rush as he rolls left. 37 yards in 4 plays and the Ducks have their first lead of the day at 10-7.
Games and even seasons turn on plays like that replay. Oregon did nearly everything right after that point, but up to the moment the referee turned his mike back on, the Vols had control of the game.
The Ducks were clearly the superior team today, but they’ll need to make better starts against Washington, UCLA and Stanford in the weeks ahead.