Tennessee Stat Book
AP Top 25 College Football
Tennessee had already cast its superhero.
Janzen Jackson spent a year as an apprentice to one at safety, so there was little question the cape would be his heading into his sophomore season.
The search for his sidekick wasn't supposed to be all that difficult either, at least until the Vols had to dismiss the most likely candidate from the team over the summer, suddenly leaving them only halfway to a Dynamic Duo. There was even still some doubt as recently as last week, at least until Prentiss Waggner showed up and delivered one of the most complete performances in the season opener to solidify his role for UT against No. 7 Oregon on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.).
"You know, I've said it all along that the guy is rock solid, and obviously Janzen is our big-name guy," defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said. "But I think if you have Batman, there's always a Robin.
"Prentiss definitely fits that mold, and he just quietly continues making plays and we're excited to have him. We don't know what we'd do without him."
The Vols (1-0) might really be scrambling considering the other options at the top of the depth chart are a former professional baseball player and a recently promoted walk-on since Darren Myles was kicked off the team in July. And though UT has enough confidence in Brent Brewer and Tyler Wolf, respectively, to put them on the field against the high-octane Ducks (1-0), another performance like Waggner unleashed against UT Martin could make it hard to get him off it.
Clearly his interception and 54-yard return for a touchdown stand out as the highlight, but his team-high six tackles might have actually been more impressive for the Vols - who value versatility and could now use either Waggner or Jackson in the box against Oregon's zone-option rushing attack.
"One thing I never questioned about Prentiss was his ball skills, so I knew he was going to catch it," Joseph said. "But just to see him get down there and mix it up, it really gives us an advantage when we can use him and Janzen on different sides in different defenses."
That flexibility figures to be critical against the Ducks, a team that can move the ball in every way imaginable and strike at any time for a score.
In its opener last week against New Mexico, Oregon rolled up 720 yards of offense, didn't punt for the entire game and racked up 35 first downs in a 72-0 victory.
The Ducks did all that with a first-time starter calling the signals in Darron Thomas, and the quarterback will have even more help now that star tailback LaMichael James is back to complete a two-headed monster with Kenjon Barner in the backfield.
Of course, it will certainly help the Vols now that they've found their own tandem in the secondary to try to corral them.
"They have a lot of playmakers," Waggner said. "They have the running backs - they're real good. They put up a lot of points, they're very explosive. We feel like they're very talented and it's going to be a big, big, big challenge for us. That's why we've got to come out every day and practice hard, get into practice and have a jump start on Saturday.
"I've been waiting for a chance like this for quite a while, and coming into the game (last week) I wasn't real nervous or anything like that, I was mentally focused and just looking to make big plays. I happened to get a break."
Waggner obviously capitalized on it, and he's got the sidekick nickname to prove it.