Last year against LSU, Tennessee lost after being penalized for having 13 players on the field, which allowed the Tigers to score the game-winning touchdown on the final play.
On Saturday, especially in the second half, the Volunteers (3-3, 0-3 SEC) could have used 13 defenders to stop LSU’s dominating rushing attack.
As the game progressed, the top-ranked Tigers (7-0, 4-0) controlled the line of scrimmage and the game clock en route to a 38-7 victory in Neyland Stadium.
“That game was not complex,” Vols coach Derek Dooley said. “I’m not sure how many mistakes we made — we made a couple on offense in the first half — but in that second half they keep hitting us.”
LSU ran for 260 yards on 52 carries and scored touchdowns on each of its three second-half possessions after leading 17-7 at halftime.
“The first half I thought we competed our tails off and had a couple of real bad mistakes that was ultimately the difference,” Dooley said. “The second half we had a couple of third down opportunities where we don’t execute and they pounded us.”
The Tigers were on offense for over 22 minutes in the second half with drives of 12, 16 and 10 plays, racking up 222 of their 383 total yards while rotating quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson.
“You can’t win games when you make mistakes against the No. 1 team in the nation,” UT defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “You’ve got to go out and play physical and tough and smart football for four quarters and we didn’t.”
With the game scoreless late in the first quarter, Vols quarterback Matt Simms connected with Rajion Neal for a 38-yard completion after a review overturned the original call of Neal being ruled out of bounds. On the next play the air was lifted out of the home crowd. Simms attempted a deep-ball to Da’Rick Rogers, but the pass was intercepted by LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, who returned it 89 yards to the UT 5-yard line, which set up the Tigers’ first touchdown, a 5-yard pass from Lee to Rueben Randle on the first play of the second quarter.
After UT went three-and-out on its ensuing possession, LSU took over at the Vols’ 36-yard line and six plays later, LSU faced a 3rd-and-11 from the UT 13. Lee hit tailback Spencer Ware on a screen pass out of the backfield, and Ware marched into the end zone to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead.
Down two scores, UT put together an impressive 10-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by tailback Tauren Poole. Poole finished with 70 yards on 19 carries and as a team, the Vols had 111 rushing yards, a noted improvement from the negative rushing yards UT posted against Florida and Georgia.
“As bad as our running game has been, we ran the ball pretty well against a great defense. We just didn’t really get a lot of opportunity in the second half,” Dooley said.
The Tigers added a field goal with 15 seconds left in the second quarter to extend their lead to two scores heading into the locker room.
“I was feeling good at halftime,” Dooley said. “The 10-point difference was to me a 89-yard interception return.”
LSU got the ball to start the third quarter and used its talent and depth to simply wear down UT’s defense with its physical, downhill running style.
“We kind of, I mean, they just killed us, period,” Jackson said. “I really don’t know what to say.”