By Rob Moseley
Tennessee’s offensive line is big and bad, stacked with future pro prospects such as 6-foot-6, 327-pound left tackle Antonio Richardson.
Oregon’s defensive line might not be as big, nor have as many future pro prospects. But the Ducks were badder at the line of scrimmage on Saturday.
In a matchup of premier units, the UO defensive line more than held its own in No. 2 Oregon’s 59-14 win over the visiting Volunteers in Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
“You know, our D line’s really good,” UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “Every time we challenge them, and we talk about the big offensive lines – whoever they may be – they seem to hold their own.”
Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart called the Tennessee offensive line the biggest the Ducks have faced this year, and “definitely one of the biggest I’ve played against so far.”
That line was able for the most part to protect quarterback Justin Worley, who wasn’t sacked. But of the Volunteers’ 178 rushing yards, just 66 came in the first half, and more than half came in the final quarter, when both teams had reserves in the game.
For the third straight game, Oregon’s defense mostly limited big plays. The exception was a 51-yard completion that set up Tennessee’s touchdown for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
But otherwise the Ducks made the Volunteers work for field position.
“That’s our philosophy – we want to make them earn it,” UO coach Mark Helfrich said. “When you tackle well and you don’t give up explosion plays, that’s how that happens.”
Oregon’s defensive line thrived despite starting end Arik Armstead appearing to play limited snaps for unknown reasons. For the most part Hart played with nose guard Wade Keliikipi and end DeForest Buckner, backed up by Ricky Havili-Heimuli, Alex Balducci and Sam Kamp.
Hart finished with five tackles, one behind safety Brian Jackson for the team lead Saturday.
Following Tennessee’s early touchdown, the Ducks scored 59 straight points, as Oregon’s offense got rolling and the defense tightened up. The Volunteers didn’t score again until midway through the fourth quarter, against a UO defense which at that point included scout-team players.
Those were the first points the Ducks have allowed in the second half through three games. Afterward, Aliotti wasn’t quibbling.
“How can I say this diplomatically?” Aliotti said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that easy, with all due respect.”