BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU fumbled the opening kick off. It accurately summed up the rest of the afternoon. Tennessee dominated the Tigers from start-to-finish on its way to a, 40-13, victory. The game was even more lopsided than the score indicates.
Here are three quick takeaways from the win.
Tennessee Starts Fast
One of my keys for the game was Tennessee starting fast. Not because the Vols needed it to win but because of the possibility of putting LSU on its heels early during an 11 a.m. local time kick.
I, nor Josh Heupel, could have imagined a start as fast as Tennessee’s. LSU won the toss and elected to receive in hopes of keeping Tennessee’s offense from jumping out to a quick lead.
Instead, LSU muffed a short kick off and Tennessee jumped on the ball. Five plays later, Jabari Small punched it into the end zone from a yard out. Before LSU touched the ball or 1:20 ran off the clock, Tennessee led 7-0.
LSU went three-and-out on its first drive of the game as a pass went through Kayshon Boutte’s hands on third-and-three. Dee Williams introduced himself to Tennessee fans on the neck play, returning the punt 59 yards into LSU territory.
Tennessee’s ensuing drives ended the same way, with Chase McGrath booting in a field goal. Between the two drives, LSU turned the ball over on down inside the Tennessee red zone.
Vols wanted to start fast. They went back to their 2021 selves Saturday morning in Baton Rouge.
A Trio of First Half Fourth Down Stops
Tennessee’s defense this season has been in bend-don’t-break mode frequently. In the first half at Tiger Stadium, they did not break.
The Vols stopped LSU three times on fourth down with all three instances leading to Tennessee scoring.
First, LSU went for it on fourth-and-four at the Tennessee 14-yard line. The play was designed to go to receiver Boutte as he came in motion. One problem, Boutte tripped over the right tackle. The preseason All-SEC receiver eventually got up and caught the pass but was half a yard short of the yard to gain.
Tennessee answered with a drive down the field ending in a field goal.
LSU had third-and-one at its own 46-yard line on the first play of the second quarter. The Tigers wanted it all, drawing up a mass protect deep shot. Tennessee covered it well and Jayden Daniels fired out of bounds.
LSU kept its offense on the field and kept it simple, running it up the middle. The Vols’ stuffed the fourth down try for a one-yard loss.
Hooker found Jalin Hyatt overtop a play later for a 45-yard score, giving Tennessee a 20-0 lead.
LSU had some momentum when it took over with 57 seconds left in the half following a missed field goal. The Tigers picked up a first down but stalled out after that. Instead of punting back to Tennessee with 30 seconds left in the half, Brian Kelly kept his offense on the field for fourth-and-10 at Tennessee’s 45-yard line.
Big mistake. Tennessee brought the house and quickly got home, sacking Daniels for an eight-yard loss. Three plays later, Hooker found Bru McCoy for a 32-yard gain. McGrath booted in a 32-yard field goal to end the half as the Vols extended their lead to 16 points at the break.
Have Yourself A Day Byron Young
Byron Young was having a statistically disappointing season entering Saturday’s matchup with LSU. The senior edge rusher may have been the best player inside Tiger Stadium.
Young lived in the LSU backfield, totaling 2.5 sacks in the win. More impressive than the numbers was how he got them. The South Carolina native had five half sacks in the win.
The Vols pass rush had a huge day and Young was the most important member as he frequently found himself in the LSU backfield.
Young ended the day with five tackles and one extra quarterback hurry as Jayden Daniels spent a large part of the afternoon running away from the preseason First Team All-SEC pass rusher.
Tennessee Dominates The Run Game
Tennessee won the game in a lot of different ways. Perhaps the biggest was how they controlled the run game on both sides of the ball.
The Vols rushing attack wore on LSU throughout the afternoon, totaling 264 yards on 48 carries— two of which ended in the end zone.
Jabari Small led the way with his season high 127 yards, Jaylen Wright added 59 yards and Hendon Hooker was effective with his legs as well, totaling 56 yards on 10 carries.
On the other end, Tennessee completely bottled up LSU’s run game.
The Tiger totaled just 55 yards on the ground on 28 carries. LSU’s longest run of the day was 17 yards and that came from Daniels. The dual threat quarterback totaled just rushing 22 rushing yards besides that play.
Tennessee made LSU’s offense completely one dimensional and that was exactly what they wanted to do. The Tigers’ passing attack had been so poor this season that they held a closed door meeting in attempts of fixing it earlier this week.
It was better on Saturday but not nearly good enough to overcome its struggles in the rushing game.