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Tennessee Dominates Line Of Scrimmage Against LSU

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

BATON ROUGE, La. — In most of Tennessee’s first 11 wins under Josh Heupel the high tempo, high flying offense has tormented opponents. Tennessee’s offense had plenty of success in Death Valley Saturday afternoon but it was the Vols’ physicality along the line of scrimmage that led to the, 40-13, Big Orange bludgeoning of the Bayou Bengals.

Tennessee’s rush offense has been largely pedestrian this season, especially if you take away Hendon Hooker’s success with his legs.

The Vols lined up and ran it right at, and over, LSU Saturday afternoon.

Tennessee’s 13 play, 81 yard field goal drive in 8:47 to ice the game displayed the rushing success more than anything else. The Vols ran it 11 times on the drive including a third-and-eight conversion on the ground.

“Four minute (offense) was really good,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “Thought we operated and functioned really well in the run game.”

Tennessee rushed for 263 yards on 49 carries with three different ball carries totaling over 50 rushing yards. Junior running back Jabari Small led the way with 127 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries— season highs in all three marks.

“Toughness,” Heupel said of what he saw from Small. “He’s been really decisive. Played with great pad level, runs his feet on contact, gets plus two a whole lot more. The o-line has done a really great job of finishing their surge too.”

Credit to Tennessee’s offensive line for its protection of Hooker. Down starting left tackle Gerald Mincey, Tennessee didn’t allow a single sack.

However, the story of Tennessee’s offensive success was its rushing game. That’s a dangerous proposition as this Volunteer offense is starting to look like a finely-tuned machine.

“You want to make them stay honest, play the whole field,” Small said of the offensive success. “Play in the box, guard the perimeters with our splits and our touch game. Each part of the offense is like a motor. We have to all do our job for it to be successful. We understand in the run game that we have to get things started and take some of the pressure off the other phases of the game.”

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As impressive as Tennessee’s offensive line was, its defensive line was even better.

The Vols bottled up the Tigers’ rushing attack all afternoon. LSU totaled just 55 yards on 28 carries. LSU’s tailbacks rushed for just 17 yards on 12 carries.

“Defensively, we controlled the line of scrimmage,” Heupel said.

Tennessee made LSU offense’s one dimensional. The Tigers haven’t excelled in the dimension Tennessee made them excel at to keep up.

Jayden Daniels threw for 300 yards but did it on 45 attempts. Tennessee didn’t give up big plays in the pass game and, unlike its win over Florida, made critical stops to get off the field.

Credit Byron Young. Tennessee’s top pass rusher entered the game with one sack on the season. He added 2.5 sacks with all of them coming off half sacks. Young led the way for a hungry Tennessee pass rush that lived in the LSU backfield.

The Vols tallied five sacks to go along with their nine tackles for loss and kept Daniels on the move all afternoon.

“Controlled and dominated the line of scrimmage,” Heupel said. “Gave up some plays in the pass game but found a way to keep them out of the end zone for the most part. Relentless energy inside of the pocket from our front four guys. Pressures when we brought it. Our edge guys did a great job of collapsing the pocket but we got enough push inside too where there wasn’t anywhere for him (Daniels) to escape out of. The lanes tightened up on him which we knew was going to be a huge factor in the game.”

Tennessee’s a team known for quick tempo and big passing plays. Some might label it as finesse, but there was nothing finesse about the Vols’ performance inside Tiger Stadium.

The Vols bullied and bruised a top 25 LSU team from start-to-finish. LSU’s program has had its flaws over the last decade, but it is never short on dudes in the front seven.

That mattered little as Tennessee dominated upfront and exits Baton Rouge 5-0 (2-0 SEC) and with a chance to be in the nation’s top five tomorrow.

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