LSU Wins Glorified Scrimmage, Nears Title Showdown
As LSU head coach Les Miles led his team off the field Saturday at Neyland Stadium, LSU fans leaned over the wall chanting: "We want Bama."
Miles merely nodded in their direction. After the game Miles was asked about the LSU at Alabama game on November 5th. A game that has already achieved mythic status before it has even kicked off. Miles dodged the question as deftly as Jordan Jefferson brushed off the Volunteer pass rush: "They'll be time for any other games at the back end of the season."
This time Les Miles and LSU didn't need an untimed down to beat the Vols. They only needed one spectacular interception from defensive back Morris Claiborne to erase UT's momentum and snag the lead for good.
By the second half today's game had devolved into a glorified scrimmage. LSU physically dominated the Tennessee Volunteers in the second half. The crowning moment of that domination came when LSU took possession at the one yard line late in the third quarter. Leading 24-7, LSU began the drive with a three yard rush.
Then LSU ran the ball for an astounding 11, 3, 13, 9, 0, 2, 18, 9, 3, 14, 3, 12, -1, and 3 for the Touchdown.
All told the Tigers traveled 114 yards without a pass completion. (There was one 15 yard penalty on UT and one 15 yard penalty on LSU).
That has to be a record for a pro-style offense.
As LSU pounded the ball into the line on each play, rushing left, right, and straight ahead, UT fans began to depart the stadium. By the time the drive ended with 8:44 remaining in the fourth quarter, there was but a skeleton crew of Vol fans remaining in Neyland Stadium.
If they were in a contemplative mood, Vol fans could think back to a little over a decade ago, when an 11-1 Vols team rolled into Atlanta with a national title game in the Rose Bowl awaiting them. The Vols lost that game to LSU and since then the Tigers and Vols have been like two ships passing in the night. LSU has notched two national titles and is the number one team in the nation -- UT is completely mediocre.
LSU finished today's game with 260 yards rushing on 52 carries. But they looked like they could have passed for that many if they needed to as well.
On the rare occasion that LSU needed to pass, its receivers torched the Tennessee defensive backs. Late in the first half, after LSU's Reuben Randle turned a five yard curl into a 45 yard gain, a 70 year old man in an orange sweater exclaimed, "Marsalis Teague couldn't cover my grandfather one-on-one."
By midway through the third quarter, as LSU alternated quarterbacks who were gouging the Vols, it made sense why Vol fans weren't buying $5 tickets on the street outside. If this was a boxing match it would have been stopped early in the fourth quarter. That's despite the Neyland Stadium setting which Les Miles memorably described as "enthusiasm that depicts the environment."
After the game an emotional John Chavis jogged on to the field and hugged each of the members of his defense as they left the field. Chavis, who spent over a decade as Phil Fulmer's coordinator and had last been on the field to see Fulmer carried off it in 2008, is now the SEC's best defensive coordinator. After that Kentucky game -- on a morning that began with Lane Kiffin on the front page of the News-Sentinel -- Chavis told members of the media that Tennessee fans weren't aware of what was coming next. He said we'd had a Tennessee man at the head of the table for so long we'd forgotten what that meant to the program.
A little over a year later -- when Lane Kiffin bolted Knoxville -- the Chief looked like a prophet.
Three years later his swarming defense held the Volunteer offense to just 239 total yards. Les Miles announced that John Chavis received the game ball in the post-game locker room and Chavis was noticeably emotional as he alternately hugged purple-clad LSU fans and orange-clad UT fans in the bowels of Neyland Stadium.
Try as UT might to make this a competitive game, you couldn't escape the feeling that this was yet another boring obstacle in the way of the national championship game on November 5th in Tuscaloosa.
If that's the case, don't tell Les Miles.
Asked whether his team was amidst a mid-season swoon, Miles seemed entertained.
"Midseason swoon, you called it? That's a hell of a choice of words," he said. Smiling pensively as only Les Miles can do.
A mid-season swoon, indeed.
Especially when you won by 31 points.
Even if Tennessee had 13 men on defense today, I don't think it would have made a difference. LSU and Alabama are in rarefied air, their coming clash will reverberate across the South for decades to come.
In the meantime, Les Miles can keep challenging extra points. As he did in the first half on Tennessee's only score. He'd thought it was bad from the sideline.
"I just challenged it," Miles said, with the what me worry shrug of his shoulders like the billionaire who just decided to buy a new jet.
It's October in Baton Rouge, but all roads lead to Tuscaloosa.
Asked why Jordan Jefferson started the second half instead of Jarrett Lee, Les Miles shrugged again: "Just kind of had a feel, just kind of wanted to do it."
Somewhere Nick Saban, he of the process, cringed at that answer. But come November 5th, Les's hunches will meet Nick's processes. And just like y'all, I can't wait for the collision.