Game recap: LSU 38, Tennessee 7
Last year in Baton Rouge, Tennessee’s math problem was confined to one play at the end of the game. Thirteen men on the field was two too many.
On a spectacular Saturday at Neyland Stadium, math again quantified the Vols’ shortcomings in a 38-7 loss to No. 1 LSU.
The Vols were in it for a half, trailing 17-7 when the band took the field.
That wasn’t the problem.
Here’s the problem:
Tennessee’s offense had possession of the ball for only 8 of the 30 minutes in the second half, during which it ran a meager 19 plays.
LSU, bigger, stronger, deeper and more talented, held the ball 22 minutes and ran 38 plays.
Box score: UT vs. LSU
No wonder then the yardage differential in the second half was 222 to 66 — and the scoreboard differential 21-0.
No wonder a crowd that began at 101,822 was thinned out to purple pockets by the end of the fourth quarter as the Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) crunched out another long touchdown drive.
"They pounded us,’’ said UT coach Derek Dooley. "I don’t know any other way to say it.’’
And so a scenario that has grown familiar played out: The Vols hang tough in the first half then try to hang on for dear life in the second.
"The second half,’’ said senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson, "they just did what they wanted to do.
"When you can’t stop it, it’s a long day. That’s what it was, a long day.’’
For the Vols (3-3, 0-3 SEC), another long day in a long month.
Tennessee Stat Book
Georgia and LSU are in the rearview mirror, a trip to No. 2 Alabama looming, followed by a visit from No. 15 South Carolina.
With quarterback Tyler Bray having joined receiver Justin Hunter among the walking wounded on the sideline, Tennessee’s offense penetrated the LSU 30 only once.
That one bore fruit, a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended in Tauren Poole’s 2-yard touchdown run with 2:24 left in the first half.
After a 44-yard bomb from Matt Simms to Da’Rick Rogers reached the LSU 34, Poole lugged it the rest of the way on the ground.
A pass-interference flag against the Tigers helped the cause but the running game was still impressive.
Coming into Saturday with a minus-29 net yards in two SEC games, the Vols rushed for 111 yards against the best defense they’ve faced and one of the best in the country.
"If we continue on that path, we’ll be fine,’’ said Dooley, aware the path passes next through Bryant-Denny Stadium.
LSU’s path, the Tigers hope, will continue to the national championship game.
"That,’’ said LSU coach Les Miles, "wasn’t our best game, certainly, but we did what we needed to do to secure a victory.’’
Poole’s touchdown cut the LSU lead to 14-7 and juiced the crowd. Surely the Vols could shepherd their momentum into the second half.
Actually, they could not.
Marsalis Teague got beat for a 45-yard LSU passing gain and the Tigers kicked an 18-yard field goal with seconds to spare to make it 17-7 at the break.
After the break, momentum and Tennessee were complete strangers.
LSU took the second-half kickoff and marched 66 yards in 12 plays. Spencer Ware’s 1-yard TD made it 24-7.
The Vols actually managed a couple of first downs before Poole was clobbered for a 7-yard loss and that was the end of that.
When a Matt Darr punt was downed at the 1, the Tigers merely drove 99 yards for another score.
All 99 of them came on the ground. Backup quarterback Jordan Jefferson got the final 3 on a keeper and it was 31-7.
Only 8:55 remained in the game when Tennessee got its second possession of the half.
Devrin Young’s 60-yard kickoff return was wasted when the Vols went out meekly, an incomplete pass on fourth-and-8.
"In situations like that we need to capitalize when we do have the ball,’’ said Simms, "and we didn’t do that.’’
So LSU ground out another relentless drive. Russell Shepard got the final 14 yards on a lateral and it was 38-7.
If UT’s running game was a pleasant surprise, its aerial game was not.
Simms was 6-of-20 for 128 yards in his first start in nearly a year.
"I played terrible,’’ said Simms, "simple as that.’’
It was a terrible interception that put LSU on the scoreboard.
Simms hit Rajion Neal for 38 yards to the LSU 42, but when he went for the big play again he was busted.
Morris Claiborne picked off a Simms deep ball at the 2, wheeled and ripped off an 89-yard return to the UT 5. Jarrett Lee hit Rueben Randle for the TD on the first play of the second quarter.
The Tigers made it 14-0, finishing a short drive with a 13-yard pass from Lee to Ware.
Simms then threw a second pick but LSU could not capitalize.
The Vols, on the other hand, failed to produce a turnover, a disturbing trend.
"You have to keep staying in the fight,’’ Dooley said, "and hopefully something good will happen. That’s the key.
"You have to keep in the two or three score range and wait for your opportunity.’’
In a second half Saturday in which the math was one-sided, that opportunity never came.