Top-ranked LSU tops Tennessee
Even when top-ranked LSU isn't playing its best, the Tigers are still finding ways to dominate games.
Jarrett Lee and LSU got off to a slower start than usual against Tennessee but wore the Volunteers down in a 38-7 victory on Saturday. It was a record sixth straight victory over a Southeastern Conference East Division opponent for the Tigers, and their seventh consecutive win by a double-digit margin.
''I felt like we did what we needed to do,'' LSU coach Les Miles said. ''It wasn't our best game, but we did what we had to do to ensure victory. Our defense gave us turnovers and the opportunities to take the opponent out. Our offense late in the game gave us the football and ate up the time of possession and scored.''
It marked a departure in the series between the two teams in which three of the last four games have been decided by a touchdown or less, including last year's bizarre finish in Baton Rouge when LSU scored the winning touchdown after the game was extended by a Tennessee penalty for too many men on the field.
Matt Simms, making his first start of the season for Tennessee in place of the injured Tyler Bray, was 6 of 20 for 128 yards and two interceptions against one of the nation's best defense.
Twice LSU (7-0, 4-0) started drives on Tennessee's side of the field, and both times the Tigers turned the field position into touchdowns.
''It wasn't a really complex game,'' Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. ''In the first half, I thought we competed our tails off and had a couple of real bad mistakes that was ultimately the difference in the first half. In the second half, we had a couple of third-down opportunities where we didn't execute and they pounded us. I don't know any other way to say it.''
The Vols had crossed midfield when Simms connected with Rajion Neal on a 38-yard pass that was ruled out of bounds but overturned on review. On the next play, Simms aimed deep for Da'Rick Rogers but hit LSU's Morris Claiborne instead.
Claiborne returned the interception 89 yards, but Zach Rogers caught up with him at the Tennessee 5. It was LSU's longest non-scoring interception return ever and longest return overall since Greg Jackson's 100-yard return in 1988 against Mississippi State.
On second down, Lee hit Rueben Randle for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 14:56 in the second quarter.
Tennessee (3-3, 0-3) started the next drive on its own 11 and went backward. Odell Beckham Jr. returned Michael Palardy's 42-yard punt to the Tennessee 36.
On third-and-11 at the Vols 13, Tennessee blitz and Lee lobbed a screen pass to Spencer Ware, who went 13 yards for a score to give LSU a 14-0 lead with 10:01 in the second quarter. The Tigers' Drew Alleman tacked on an 18-yard field goal with 15 seconds before halftime.
Lee finished 10 of 14 for 115 yards, Ware ran for 80 yards and a score, Jordan Jefferson added 73 yards rushing and a touchdown on 14 carries and Randle had 86 yards receiving and a touchdown. Michael Ford and Russell Shepard also ran for scores.
Aside from LSU's 99 yards on interception returns, the teams played almost evenly through the first half.
The Vols kept from falling apart, even as Simms threw another interception midway through the second quarter. Tennessee's defense held LSU after the pick, and the offense put together an 80-yard drive.
Simms threw a 44-yard pass to Da'Rick Rogers, who dragged LSU's Tyrann Mathieu the last 10 yards of the play, and Tauren Poole covered 28 yards on seven plays before punching the ball in the end zone on a 2-yard run that cut the Tigers' lead to 14-7 with 2:24 before halftime.
But LSU's many weapons on both sides of the field got to be too much for the Vols after halftime. LSU finished with 383 yards to Tennessee's 239, picked up 13 more first downs and held the ball over 16 minutes longer than the Vols.
''Our running game is really strong right now, and our offensive line is blocking so well and playing smart football,'' Lee said. ''We're keeping the ball in our hands and it's helping us right now.''
Ware ran 1 yard for a touchdown to make it 24-7 with 7:53 in the third quarter.
''By the way (the Vols) were putting their hands on the ground, I could tell they were getting a little fatigued,'' Ware said. ''We were having fun. When you're having fun, it makes it that much easier.''
The running game was a surprising bright spot for the Vols, who last week Bray to a broken thumb.
After losing a combined 29 yards in losses to Florida and Georgia, Tennessee gained 111 yards on the ground against the fourth best run defense in the nation.
''We have had problems in the running game, but we just tried to put it on our back as an offensive line, hit them in the mouth and try to build momentum,'' Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said. ''We left the first half with some momentum. We need to keep pushing each other and execute in the second half.''