LSU Overwhelms Tennessee
Stymied by two big LSU Tiger plays in the first half, the Vols were then pummeled into submission in the second half. It was perhaps the most physical beat-down the Vols have ever suffered in the long history of Neyland Stadium.
During the week, Tennessee Head Coach Derek Dooley and OC Jim Cheney spoke about patience, in the sense that when things aren’t going your way, don’t try to recover everything all at once. Apparently it did not register during critical parts of the first half.
Early, LSU couldn’t muster much on offense, due in large part to Tennessee’s physical and active defense, especially the Vol defensive front that was effectively shutting down the vaunted Tiger rushing attack. But just before the end of the opening quarter, after the Vols had stopped another Tiger drive, Vol replacement QB Matt Simms went vertical. It was as if the senior tried (unfortunately) to emulate the younger Tyler Bray.
On a first-and-10 at the LSU 42 yard line, Vol WR Da’Rick Rogers ran a downfield route along the left sideline. But Simms just couldn’t get enough on his throw, and Rogers’ defender Morris Claiborne made a fine, but not terribly difficult interception.
The difficult part came next – an 89-yard run from the LSU six to Tennessee’s five yard line. That set up the Tigers’ first score of the first half.
A promising start fueled by the Vol defense was severely dented in a matter of seconds.
After a three-and-out by the Vols, LSU regained possession and scored on a nifty screen pass from Jarrett Lee to Spencer Ware on a third-and-11 at the Vol 13.
Later, in the second quarter, Simms went vertical again and made a horrible read, throwing straight into double-coverage on an over-the-middle route looking to quickly make up the 14-point deficit, allowing Eric Reid to make a relatively easy INT at the LSU 35-yard line. That didn’t lead directly to a Tiger TD. But it decapitated an opportunity to capitalize on (hold your breath) a developing ground game by the Vols.
Tennessee can’t run. Tennessee can’t run. Tennessee can’t run, especially against a monster defense like the LSU Tigers.
Don’t tell the Vols. On their next possession, Tauren Poole and company made the Vol Nation think of years past. On a 10-play, 80-yard drive, Poole carried the ball on seven consecutive downs and scored to cap what seemed to be a miracle – a sustained, run-fueled drive featuring gaping holes created by the Vol OL, and darting, power runs of penetration by Poole.
With only two and a half minutes remaining in the half, the Vols were back in the contest, and the Volunteer crowd was in full voice on a stunningly beautiful autumn afternoon.
But the big play reared its ugly head once again.
After a drive-opening 11-yard run for a first down, Jarrett Lee hit Rueben Randle down the right sideline for a 45-yard gain to the Vol 10 yard line. Tennessee’s defense once again stepped up big and held the Tigers on a 3rd and inches at the goal line to make LSU settle for a chip-shot FG to put the visitors ahead 17-7.
For all of the Vols’ valiant defensive effort, and a stunningly decent rushing game of 66 yards on 18 carries, the halftime 10-point deficit came down to two big plays – Morris Claiborne’s 89-yard INT run and the Lee-to-Randle pass play near the end of the first half – highlighting an ugly Vol penchant for giving up back-breakers.
The only way that Tennessee was going to hang with LSU was to deny the Tigers on that all-important first five minutes of the second half.
Receiving the kickoff, the Tigers methodically dismantled the Vol defense. QB Jordan Jefferson ran the ball four times on a 13-play, 66-yard drive that took 7:01 off the clock. Avoiding the death-march style drives was crucial for the Vols to have a sniff of a chance. Instead, Tennessee found themselves down 24-7, a three-score deficit, against a team that you knew would milk the remainder of the contest with more of the same.
The Tigers ran for more yards in the third quarter than they did in the entire first half.
The remainder was a slow, methodical torture of a worn out defense by an offensive power-football machine. In the fourth quarter, LSU chewed up game clock by chewing up the fatigued Volunteer defense on a 11-play, 99-yard drive to make it 31-7 with about 7 minutes remaining in the contest.
It was a signature statement by good old-fashioned power football.
Neyland Stadium, now shrouded in an autumn shade, felt old and dispirited. As the game eventually came to its final moments, with another Tiger TD at 2 minutes left, there weren’t many people left in the old stadium to see the scoreboard showing LSU 38 Tennessee 7.
In the second half, LSU held the time-of-possession tally by an astounding 22 minutes to 8.
There were signs of improvement for Tennessee, most notably in the rushing game (112 yards was far better than the previous negative-yardage efforts) against the most physical of SEC-style defenses. The Vols’ defense continued to show itself proud with another spirited effort against a football machine before getting fatigued simply by being made to stay out on the field and suffer.
But there was also a terrible regression in the passing game (no Bray, no aerial attack) — 6-for-20 and 128 yards — as well as more of the same with regards to turnover ratio and stupid mistakes from mental errors.
LSU fully deserves their Number One ranking. For now.
Thank goodness next week we don’t have the unfortunate fortune to play the top-ranked team again. Perhaps facing Number Two Alabama on the road will seem like a breather compared with today’s suffocation at home.
But, I doubt it. Brace yourself for continued challenges, both on the field and off of it.