Tennessee Stat Book
AP Top 25 College Football
For two programs that have never played, Tennessee and Oregon share some striking connections.
The strongest might be UT graduate assistant Peter Sirmon, a former four-year starter (1996-99) at linebacker for the Ducks who spent last season at Oregon as a graduate assistant.
"Nothing (like this) comes to mind, but there's a lot of instances where coaches leave one school and end up at another," Sirmon said after the Vols finished Wednesday's practice in preparation for Saturday night's game against the No. 7 Ducks (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.)
"I don't know when the last time, maybe nine or 10 years ago, when Oregon played an SEC team - it doesn't happen very often. It's kind of a fluke thing that it's happened right now."
Sirmon, who spent five of his seven NFL seasons with the Tennessee Titans, doesn't think the familiarity gives either side an advantage.
"I think everyone kind of knows what Oregon does," said Sirmon, who works with UT's safeties. "I don't think there's any secrets. They do a nice job of continually doing what they're good at."
What the Ducks excel at is running the football. Oregon averaged more than 230 yards per game rushing last season and torched New Mexico for 369 yards in the season opener.
"They don't let other defenses affect what they do," Sirmon said. "They create a lot of space, and the guys they have in the skill positions are tough to tackle.
"(Defending Oregon) takes a lot of discipline. More than anything you've got to be great tacklers, and you can't be overwhelmed when they make some plays. Getting them out of their rhythm is the tried-and-true way to slow 'em down a little bit.
"It's a huge challenge. I was fortunate to be a part of it last year."
Sirmon said he doesn't have any extra motivation in facing his alma mater and former employer.
"Every time you go out there on Saturday you want to do your best," he said. "There's nothing more than you put your time into something, (and) you want to see it be as successful as it possibly can."
Contagious Confidence: Gerald Jones' hand injury has forced UT's younger receivers into a more important role as visits from Oregon and No. 8 Florida loom.
Receivers coach Charlie Baggett has liked what he's seen from freshmen Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter and sophomore Zach Rogers.
"I think they'll play well when they get in there," Baggett said.
"If I show confidence in them, they'll have confidence in themselves, and that's the way I try to coach. They'll make mistakes because they're young and inexperienced, but I'll think it'll be the kind of things that we can live with."
Baggett was also glad to have Denarius Moore back practicing on a limited basis.
"His ankle's healed and he's ready to go," Baggett said.
"The timing with the quarterback and the timing in the passing game is one of the things you don't want anyone to miss practice time because it hurts."
Pope Returns: Center Cody Pope was limited at practice after spending part of Tuesday at UT Medical Center as a precaution.
Status Update: Tight end Luke Stocker wore a non-contact red jersey at practice as he deals with nagging shoulder soreness.
Safety Tyler Wolf (back) returned to practice and defensive tackle Minor Bowens is out with a staph infection.
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.