Tennessee vs. LSU: Game Preview
Tennessee (3-2) vs. #1 LSU (6-0)
October 15, 2011- Neyland Stadium Knoxville, TN- 3:30 EDT
CBS- Vol Network
History and Stats
The Tennessee Volunteers are 20-8-3 against the LSU Tigers since 1925.
Half of the loss total has come in the last 10 years.
Each of the last 4 games (played from 2005-2010) has been decided by a touchdown or less.
Tennessee leads the series in Knoxville 11-2-1.
LSU holds the current winning streak at 3 since 2006.
Not considered a traditional SEC rivalry game, LSU and Tennessee meet every 4 years on the current rotating SEC schedule. It has become a more heated match up every year, playing LSU twice this past decade for the SEC championship in Atlanta has provided this matchup with some luster. LSU was victorious in both contests, the first in 2001 knocking the #2 Volunteers out of the National Championship game, and the second in 2007 that led to LSU’s second National Championship in four years.
Twice Tennessee went to Tiger Stadium in the past decade and twice the game has gone into overtime; the first time in 2000 and once again in 2005. It’s hard for Volunteers or Tigers fans to forget that Monday night after Hurricane Katrina. LSU went up big in the first half, but surrendered the lead in the second half after former Tiger and transfer QB Rick Clausen came in and led the Volunteers to an overtime victory.
The 2010 game in Baton Rouge proved to be one of the most exciting, chaotic, and improbable endings of any SEC game in recent memory. LSU walked away with a victory after time finally expired and Tennessee withdrew in shock from the field and headed back to Knoxville.
The Tennessee defense was trying to defend its goalline in the final seconds, clinging to a 14-10 lead, as players from both teams came running on and off the field.
When the fire drill ended -- with quarterback Jordan Jefferson trying to chase down a shotgun snap that sailed from the LSU one and wound up in a scrum back at the 15 -- the scoreboard showed :00 and Tennessee 14, LSU 10.
But, the clock lied.
In the end zone, there was a small yellow flag.
Th flag was on Tennessee for having not 11, not 12, but 13 men on the field for LSU's aborted final snap.
The illegal substitution penalty moved the ball inside the Tennessee one-yard line and gave LSU one more play. Given the unusual reprieve, Jefferson took the snap, wheeled and pitched to Stevan Ridley, who barreled over left guard for the game-winning touchdown. Since the PAT didn't matter in the final outcome, that really, really, ended the game, and Coach Derek Dooley and the Volunteers came away shell-shocked.
This year the No. 1 Tigers travel to Knoxville before another 4 year hiatus from the Vols.
The Tennessee offense takes the field with another captain at the helm this week. Senior Matt Simms may be the “new” starting quarterback Saturday but it is a position that is not unfamiliar to this particular Tennessee Vol. Taking over for prolific freshmen gunslinger, Tyler Bray, who is out for 6 weeks after breaking his thumb in the final quarter last week against Georgia, Simms started the first eight games in 2010 for Tennessee. He reassumes a position he held during the debacle in Death Valley against the Tigers last season.
Simms completed four of the six passes he threw in his drive against the Bulldogs, including a fourth-down completion to tight end Mychal Rivera that set up Simms' 1-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak. Simms, who was sacked 28 times last season, completed 58 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and eight interceptions, when UT went 2-6 before Bray took over the position permanently in the second half of the South Carolina game.
The Vols are also missing star receiver Justin Hunter, sidelined for the season after the Florida loss. Hopefully, wideout Da'Rick Rogers will still be as effective with Simms under center.
If there were questions about youth and inexperience before, the hammer has come down hard on Rocky Top. One week ago, the passing game and Tyler Bray were the shining star of the Tennessee offense, in a matter of days, this offense is in essence starting over against the number one ranked team in the country.
Matt Simms is a confident quarterback and has the support of his teammates and coaches but this is a hard position for any player regardless of talent or experience. Hopefully the offensive line has improved in a season to allow Simms the time necessary to get the ball downfield against one of the top ranked defenses in the nation.
It’s no secret that the Tigers are a running team, that is most evident in their 183.3 yards per game passing stats. They mostly work off of play action and depend more on Jarrett Lee to not make a bad decision more so than making a spectacular throw. He has obliged and completed 71 of his 118 attempts with 8 td’s and only 1 interception.
With senior Jordan Jefferson slowly working his way back into a more prominent role, the LSU offense is starting to resemble a two-quarterback system.
Against the Gators, Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson combined to complete 10 of 14 passes for 215 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Jefferson has mostly run the ball himself or handed it off in his sporadic playing time the last two games, although he did complete 3-of-4 passes for 61 yards against Florida.
Meanwhile, Lee has two rushing carries to his credit for -15 yards.
If LSU can continue to run the ball at will, then Lee will continue to pick his spots to make opponents pay through the air – which has been successful in large part because of individual efforts from receivers Reuben Randle and Odell Beckham who have combined for 43 receptions and accounted for 6 of the 10 touchdown throws by both quarterbacks.
Tennessee offensive coordinatorJim Chaney will have to find some way of turning the current Volunteer running game around. In the Vols two SEC games to date, Chaney's unit has totaled minus-29 rushing yards. Tennessee is the onlyteam in the SECaveraging less than 100 yards per game (84.8). The one dimensional UT offense was easily overshadowed by the passing game prior to UGA.
Given the current circumstances for the Volunteers, the run game has become a point of contention that if it is not stepped up in this week’s game will bring woeful results in Neyland for the team, coaches and Tennessee faithful.
Tailbacks Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane combined for 42 yards on 28 carries in the two SEC losses. Lane had 84 yards on six receptions against the Bulldogs, but the highly touted freshman is still playing like a freshman.
Senior running back Tauren Poole is currently day to day with a hamstring injury though he practiced today and Dooley said he should be “ready to roll” on Saturday.“We can’t run the ball,” said Coach Derek Dooley, an LSU assistant from 2000-2004. “If we can’t run the ball, we can’t beat good football teams. That’s a fact.”
This is the identity of the LSU offense. Yes, they actually have one this season. They are a bruising, downhill unit that picks up yards in bunches (4.1 yards per attempt). The LSU offense racked up 238 rushing yards, led by Spencer Ware’s 109, against a Florida defense that came in ranked in the top 20 against the run Saturday.
LSU's running game, led by backs Ware and Michael Ford, have a combined 756 of the 1,101 total yards and 11 TD's on the season. Their production has been aided of late by the return of QBJefferson, who found his way into the end zone on the ground in his first action of the season last week. Ware earned playing time last season as a fullback before being given the starting running back position this year replacing Stevan Ridley. His willingness to block and make good decisions produces a deadly threat on the ground.
The Tiger rushing attack averages 183.5 yards per game, which means Tennessee’s defensive front has it’s work cut out for them.
Keep in mind that this offensive production is coming even though the Tigers are playing without one of their best offensive linemen, guard Josh Dworaczyk.
LSU has scored on its opening possession in all but one game this season.
The Tennessee defense has been good but not great. They were able to hold Georgia to just 20 points last week but gave up 33 to Florida on the road. The Volunteer defense against the Bulldogs held three 4th and short conversions to field goals last week but were unable to bounce back against big plays and costly penalties. Given LSU’s propensity for bringing the big play, the Tennessee defense will have to have a big response and the execution to back it up. Middle linebacker Austin Johnson had a career high 11 tackles against Georgia but admits that the Vols, “have just got to fight back.”
This Vols defense must learn to finish a game and play the full 60 minutes composed under pressure. Coach Dooley is looking for this defense to aggressively step up and “create” the big defensive plays necessary to stop the highly touted LSU offense.
The biggest weakness for the unit has been the defensive line. They have not been able to get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks and have not been particularly good at sealing the edge. They have been surprisingly sturdy at limiting yardage between the tackles though.
The defensive secondary will continue to rely on junior safety Prentiss Waggner, coming off a career-high 11 tackles in the loss to Georgia nearly forcing two turnovers against the Bulldogs, but who will have his work cut out for him against receivers Beckham and Randle of the Tigers. The bottom line is Tennessee’s defense has been bend but don’t break and isn’t game changing. They are -1 in the turnover margin which is good enough for 9th in the SEC, whereas the Tigers are +11 and sit atop the SEC standings in that department.
The Tigers give up an average of 12.5 points, tied for eighth-best in the FBS, and rank fifth in total defense at 254.0 yards allowed per game after holding Florida to 213.
The Tigers’ defense has been noteworthy so far this year. Led by sophomore cornerback Tyrann Mathieu who has as two interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries along with 41 total tackles to his credit, this group forces more turnovers than almost any team in the country.
LSU’s defense is remarkable considering the strength of schedule to date. They have been stifling against the run, allowing only 69.2 yards per game. The Tigers have come up with eight interceptions and six fumble recoveries to date. They have also racked up 13 sacks on the season. UT’s offensive line must cover this stifling defense while allowing Matt Simms ample time to make the play. There are some holes in the secondary, but they close quickly. This may be one of if not the fastest defenses Tennessee will face all season.
Miscues on special teams have become par for the course for the Vols this season and it was no different against Georgia. Michael Palardy missed a 51-yard field goal but connected on two others. Special teams are relied upon to get the points when the opportunity presents itself and kicking an extra point into the back of an offensive lineman was embarrassing for the team in the last game. The one thing the Tennessee special teams has going for them is Devrin Young's return ability. Keeping the field position manageable for the most part against the Tigers is a must on Saturday.
Matt Darr continues to improve as a punter and may see more playing time than the Vols care for this week.
UT’s coverage units have performed well to date but have also not been challenged week in and week out by high caliber squads bent on making aggressive plays on special teams.
LSU’s special teams have been pretty solid all season, and at some points, spectacular. Kicker Drew Alleman is doing a good job replacing All-American Josh Jasper. He is 8-10 on fieldgoals with a long of 44 but has missed 2 pat’s.
Punter Brad Wing has the Tiger’s sitting 3rd in the league with a 40.6 yard average and really good placement. He also had a touchdown on a fake punt that was called back against Florida last week due to a controversial taunting penalty.
LSU has been ok at kick return coverage, giving up an average of 18.9 yards per return.They are really good at punt coverage though. Opponents have averaged a measly 0.6 yards per return.
The Tigers have taken 1 kick for a touchdown so far this season and average 22.6 yards per return.They are solid at returning punts as well, gaining 7.2 yards a touch.
There have been some great games between the Tigers and the Volunteers and this Saturday with be another chance to add to that history. This matchup presents itself as an opportunity for the Tennessee Volunteers to beat the number one ranked, undefeated team on its own terms inside its own house.
One thing is certain inside the Southeastern Conference and that is that the upset is always a variable and plays into any game any Saturday. While it doesn’t look good on paper for the Vols there remain several intangibles to a Tennessee victory that don’t rely on yards per carry or field goal percentages.
The young Volunteers walk into Neyland to give their all for a program that came very close to winning last year in Death Valley and walked out in stunned defeat. The Vols must also play not only for their own honor but for thousands of Tennessee fans who continue to stand behind their team and don the orange and white while singing Rocky Top at the top of their lungs.