Tennessee Stat Book
Justin Wilcox: Looking back on Montana, forward to Cincinnati
Jim Chaney: What the Vols need to improve before Cincinnati
Derek Dooley is a traditionalist.
The fast-breaking, mismatch-seeking spread offense may be continuing to intrigue coaches and capture attention across college football, but the Tennessee coach is admittedly a pro-style guy.
With a pair of rising stars at wide receiver, a proven senior at running back and a tall, strong-armed quarterback at his disposal, it's not hard to figure out why Dooley would feel more comfortable with a throwback approach -- at least relative to the hotter, newer attacks.
But Dooley has made clear he isn't opposed to some of the principles of the en vogue offense of this era. So just because the Vols (1-0) might prefer an old-school style, that doesn't mean Cincinnati (1-0) will be the only team using a spread offense at Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 3:30 p.m.).
"It's like anything, OK, schemes always shift and go in cycles," Dooley said. "But, first of all, our offense has a lot of elements of the spread when we throw the ball. We have a lot of spread plays when we throw the ball, and you've got to know there's a lot of different spread offenses.
"What we don't do in our spread, we don't use the quarterback as a runner — and a lot of spread offenses don't. It's more of a quick, get the ball out in space quickly, horizontal game. Then you have the zone-read spread teams, where the quarterback is a runner."
The Vols certainly don't fall in that category with 6-foot-6 Tyler Bray under center, and it's on the ground where UT most clearly separates itself from the spread.
Unlike Cincinnati signal-caller Zach Collaros, Bray is not a threat to keep the ball and run. And with a stable of tailbacks led by Tauren Poole and a solid fullback in Channing Fugate, the Vols have no plans to use their quarterback that way.
But UT proved a year ago it was willing to experiment with its play-calling to get athletes like Da'Rick Rogers on the edge with room to operate, most notably by handing the ball to him on fly-sweeps and end-arounds. And among other plays now associated with the spread, the Vols also have the ability to dial up a few quick-hitting screens to targets on the perimeter -- though the more vintage play-action passes and deep balls remain their hallmark.
"Most definitely," Rogers said. "I feel like we have a big offensive line and a traditional Power-I offense with strong backs. I feel like we can pound them in the run game and stretch the field deep. That's our identity. We're going to run the ball downhill and we're going to throw the ball deep down the field.
"Our identity is we're going to run the ball hard, we're going to hit you and we're going to throw it deep. I mean, it's a simple identity, but it works for us."
Regardless of the complexity, UT's offense has been putting up points just like some of those up-tempo spreads around the nation since Bray took over as the starter last November.
In his six starts, the Vols have gone over 50 points twice, posted 42 a week ago against Montana and have yet to score fewer than 24 in a game with him taking all the snaps. And while much of the pre-game attention this week has centered on UT's ability to slow down a high-octane offense, it's own attack will be facing a Cincinnati defense that ranked No. 88 in the country last year against the pass and allowed 28 points per game.
"There's no magic scheme that is unstoppable," Dooley said. "It generally comes down to what do you run, who are the players you have to run it and how sound you are. All of them can win a lot of games.
"We're a pro-style team, but we have a lot of spread components within our pro-style offense. That's just what I believe because of how I was raised and what I believe it takes to win in this conference, and I think the evidence in the past has shown that."
But moving into the future, an affinity for tradition apparently won't keep Dooley from staying up with the times.