Game recap: LSU 38, Tennessee 7
Tennessee expected a test of its manhood.
The Vols appeared to need more men taking it.
There were some passing grades for UT defensively as it dealt with a physically imposing, hard-running offense against No. 1 LSU. But ultimately there weren't enough Vols in the classroom as they were beaten down by superior depth, more talent and an inability to match the toughness of the Tigers for four quarters on Saturday in a 38-7 loss to the top-ranked team in the nation.
Box score: UT vs. LSU
Tennessee Stat Book
"Not a real complex game there," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "We fought, but you've got to get some of those third-down stops. Eventually they just wear you down and if you can't get off on third down against them, they wear you down.
"I knew it, and you saw it out there. It's a grown-man's game."
The Vols didn't shrink from it, but the majority of their defenders are young, not-quite-fully-grown and unable to sustain what was a relatively even matchup for about a half at Neyland Stadium.
UT (3-3, 0-3 SEC) was able to keep the Tigers (7-0, 4-0) largely in check before intermission, refusing to give much ground in the trenches and responding with some stops despite again facing difficult situations. But with three of their top four tacklers coming from the freshman class, the Vols were eventually overpowered by an LSU offense that started six seniors and three juniors and had no issues moving the ball throughout a second half that featured one productive run after another.
"No excuses," defensive lineman Marlon Walls said. "We didn't have (depth) in the spring, we don't have it now and I'm never going to sit back and say, 'We need more guys.' Or, 'We're young, we need more help.' No, we've been playing this way.
"We know how many guys we've got, we know who is getting reps, and it's on us. There's no, 'Hey, they've got a better rotation.' No, it's up to us and we've got to do a better job playing as a unit."
The Vols showed an ability to do that at times, rallying to the football in the early going, making a handful of plays in the backfield and coming up with what could have been a momentum-shifting stop on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line just before halftime.
But they also showed some of the same issues that have plagued them throughout the season. There were lapses when LSU used its quarterback as another option on the ground. The coverage in the secondary allowed ample room for easy completions in the passing game, the defensive backs missed at least one crucial tackle and the Vols were never really close to forcing a turnover.
And with another manly, highly-ranked opponent waiting on the Vols next week at Alabama, the tests aren't going to get any easier.
"I don't think it was us wearing down," Walls said. "I just think it was want-to. We knew they were going to come out in the second half and try us again. It was a test of our manhood, and in the first half we did an OK job. We got relaxed. We knew what was coming, we knew they were going to run that power right at us, run (all the time) on us.
"One bad play happens and our back gets against the wall, and we've got to come out fighting. Learn how to get out of a corner. I think we sit back. We play an OK first half because our hair is on fire and it's the No. 1 team coming in here, and I think we get kind of complacent and relax. I don't know why at all, but we do it and we have to figure out how to change it. We've got to change it now."
The Vols have no choice but to do it with the guys they already have on the roster. And the young ones found out exactly how they measure up against the best in the nation at the moment.