No matter what happens or how interesting this game turns out to be, there’s no way, no how, that it can come close to being as crazy as last year’s 16-14 LSU win. The Bayou Bengals are playing too well to let it be anywhere near that close this season.
The Tigers are catching a few breaks, missing Florida quarterback John Brantley last week and not facing Tennessee star quarterback Tyler Bray this week, but it doesn’t really matter…LSU just doesn’t need the help. The defense is swarming, playing at an elite level that only Alabama can match. The offense is beating everyone up with a brutish offensive line that’s paving the way for a strong ground game. Throw in the terrific special teams and an efficient passing game, and this is a complete team that’s toying with opponents.
Coach Derek Dooley is still rebuilding the Vols program after being hamstrung by the problems of past coaching staffs, and now he needs to patch things together to keep his team from getting obliterated. The banged-up Vols haven’t been able to get through the two big games against SEC East foes, losing against Florida and Georgia. Things are going to get worse before they get better, with a trip to Alabama up next and with a date at Arkansas down the road, but the Vols have nothing to lose. The SEC title is out of the equation, and the record might get ugly going into November, but they can let it all hang out and take several chances while hoping LSU comes in overconfident and looking ahead.
Tennessee hasn’t run the ball all season long, and they can all but forget about the running game against an LSU defensive front that’s not giving up a thing. The Tigers stuffed Oregon,and Mississippi State was kept to 52 yards. Florida got decent production out of Chris Rainey and Mike Gillislee, but without Taureen Poole at 100%, Tennessee doesn’t have a back good enough to do much of anything against LSU.
The Vols defense has been just good enough to potentially keep LSU’s passing game in check. The defensive front has been pushed around a bit, and the pass rush isn’t there, but the secondary hasn’t been bad. LSU feeds off of big plays from the defense and a power running game that wears teams down. And while it’ll have a few good marches, Tennessee should be able to win its share of moments on defense as long as the line can hold firm and force the Tigers into third-down passing situations.
To have a chance at home, Tennessee will have to milk the clock, connect on third and midrange plays, and win the turnover battle.
Last year’s game versus the Volunteers was the rebuilding of Jarrett Lee. The finale might have come down to Jordan Jefferson, but it was Lee who did most of the heavy lifting, completing 16 of 23 passes for 185 yards in his first meaningful performance of the year. Since that Saturday afternoon in 2010, he’s been effective and efficient. This year, Lee has thrown for 947 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception. The only question really is, how much more will Jefferson be in the mix? Coach Les Miles couldn’t give an expected number of snaps, but is locked at who will be the team’s starter.
Like I said last week for the game against the Gators, even at full strength the Vols would have problems against a frothing-at-the-mouth Tiger defense, especially the secondary. And now there’s just no star power for Tennessee. Matt Simms is a nice backup quarterback, and he’ll be fine against average SEC teams, but LSU isn’t an average team. The Tigers won’t have to take too many chances and this will end up being an impressive, methodical win.