Knoxville, TN – The top-ranked LSU Tigers have looked downright indestructible so far, and they will attempt to avoid an upset in this weekend's SEC matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers.
All six of LSU's wins have come by double figures, especially impressive when considering the fact that four of the teams the Tigers have beaten were ranked at the time of the matchup. Last weekend, Les Miles' club demolished Florida in Baton Rouge by a 41-11 final.
"We just go in and play great football," said LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle. "Our coaches have a great plan, and we just go out and execute it. We have a great team and great talent around here. We just go out and do our job and come out with a victory."
Derek Dooley's Tennessee team opened the season with back-to-back wins, but the team has lost two of its last three outings since then. Last weekend, the Vols were held in check offensively at home in a 20-12 setback to Georgia. They are now 0-2 in conference action with ranked league foes LSU, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas on the docket over the next five outings.
"Well real good first half, two teams going at it toe to toe and we came out in the third quarter and had a little melt down there for a couple of possessions," said a disappointed Dooley after last week's loss.
Although Tennessee owns a 20-8-3 series lead over the Tigers, LSU won last season's matchup by a 16-14 final.
LSU is generating 38.5 ppg and 366.8 total ypg, impressive numbers for an offense that is far more steady than spectacular. The ground attack accounts for 183.5 ypg with a mediocre average of 4.1 yards per rush. Spencer Ware has run for 432 yards and five scores, while Michael Ford has 324 yards and six rushing touchdowns to his credit. Jarrett Lee has started every game at quarterback and has eight touchdowns with one interceptions, and Rueben Randle paces the receivers with 23 receptions for 446 yards and four scores. Now that Jordan Jefferson is back from suspension and seeing action every game at QB, Miles has plenty of offensive versatility.
Sure, LSU has done a good job of moving the ball and scoring points, but this team is feared for its defense much more than its offense. The Tigers are permitting only 12.5 ppg and 254.0 ypg, remarkable considering the strength of schedule to date. They have been stifling against the run, allowing only 69.2 ypg at a clip of 2.3 yards per rushing attempt. LSU has come up with eight interceptions and six fumble recoveries, and the best defensive player in all of college football may very well roam the Tigers' defensive backfield. Sophomore Tyrann Mathieu is an absolute superstar, and he leads the club with 41 total tackles. He has two interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries to his credit.
Against Florida last week, LSU posted 453 total yards and allowed only 213 total yards. Spencer Ware ran for two touchdowns, while both Lee and Jefferson threw for scores. The Gators were only able to make good on 2-of-11 third-down conversion attempts against the dynamic Tigers.
"I liked exactly what the defense did except for a couple of plays, including the long pass," said Miles after the win. "The defensive line was constantly putting pressure in the quarterback's face and making line of scrimmage tackles as two techniques and three techniques."
To the dismay of the Tennessee faithful, the Vols will play without both quarterback Tyler Bray and tailback Tauren Poole this weekend. Poole's hamstring injury doesn't appear to be too serious, but the same can't be said for Bray's ailing thumb. The sophomore may miss the rest of the season, a tough break for such a standout young performer.
"Football is a rough sport, and you have to be ready when you are called upon," said senior QB Matt Simms, who came in for Bray after the injury occurred last week. "It was a tough position but you just have go in and let in rip."
Simms scored Tennessee's only touchdown of the game on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter, but the Vols finished with only 270 total yards despite not committing a single turnover. Defensively, they put forth a solid effort against Georgia, but the Bulldogs played mistake-free football for the most part and notched a pair of rushing scores.
The Vols are generating 32.6 ppg and 412.0 total ypg this season despite the fact that the running game has been horrendous. They are gaining just 84.8 ypg on the ground at a clip of 2.5 ypc, and of the 20 touchdowns that the offense has posted to date just six have come on the ground. Bray has thrown 14 touchdowns against only two interceptions and will clearly be missed. Hopefully, wideout Da'Rick Rogers (32 rep, 513 yds, six TDs) will still be as effective with Simms under center.
Tennessee is allowing 20.4 ppg and 343.8 total ypg, respectable numbers by most standards. Still, there is room for improvement, especially since the Vols have only five takeaways this season and are permitting 12.8 yards per pass completion.