Oct. 15, 2011
(7-0, 4-0 SEC)
(3-3, 0-3 SEC)
BY DREW EDWARDS
KNOXVILLE -- Last October, Tennessee came within one play of upsetting LSU in Baton Rouge. On Saturday, the outcome was decided long before the final whistle.
Top-ranked LSU started slowed but dominated the time of possession -- and the scoreboard -- after halftime to defeat Tennessee 38-7 in front of 101,822 in Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
"Not a real complex game there," UT head coach Derek Dooley said. "They pounded us. I don't know any other way to say it."
That was certainly the case after halftime, when LSU limited the Vols to just three offensive possessions and controlled the clock on its way to 21 unanswered points.
The Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) began the third quarter with a 12-play drive that lasted seven minutes and eight seconds. Spencer Ware capped that drive with a 1-yard touchdown.
Unfortunately for the Vols (3-3, 0-3 SEC), it was a nasty bit of foreshadowing.
Ninety-nine yards and 8:55 later, quarterback Jordan Jefferson scored from 3 yards out to give LSU a commanding 31-7 lead.
"Second half, they just did what they wanted to do," UT defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "They just ran the ball. We couldn't stop it. When you can't stop it, it's a long day. And that's what it was for us -- a long day."
Tennessee started the day feeling pretty good about where it stood.
The Vols held LSU in check during the first quarter -- the first time in 31 quarters it was held scoreless -- until the Tigers unleashed an 89-yard salvo.
Simms, starting his first game since last October, slowed down Claiborne, who was eventually tackled at the Vols' 5-yard line by Zach Rogers. Two plays later, the Tigers took a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard pass from Jarrett Lee to Reuben Randle.
The Vols, taking over at their 10-yard line, went three-and-out on their next series, and LSU countered with a seven-play, 36-yard touchdown drive.
Simms threw his second interception on the Vols' next possession, but the defense, as it did for much of the first half, came up with a big stop.
Simms, who finished 6-of-20 passing for 128 yards and two interceptions, accepted much of the blame for Tennessee's struggles on offense.
"I played terrible," said Simms, who became the starter after Tyler Bray broke his right thumb late in last week's loss to Georgia. "Simple as that. I played terrible.
"I felt good. Obviously, I was looking forward to this game. Both interceptions in the first half were just terrible decisions."
Still, the Vols found something in the second quarter they've lacked at times this season -- a counterpunch.
Senior Tauren Poole capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, his first touchdown since the season-opener against Montana.
During one sequence on the drive, Poole carried seven straight times. Da'Rick Rogers had his only catch of the first half on that drive as well, a 44-yarder that moved UT to the LSU 34-yard line.
"I'm real proud of that drive we had against an excellent defense," Dooley said.
LSU answered, though, with a 45-yard catch-and-run by Randle, who finished with 86 yards on five catches and one touchdown. That play gave the Tigers a first-and-goal at the 10, but UT's defense stuffed a quarterback sneak by Jefferson at the 1 and forced LSU to kick a field goal.
UT had a little less success stopping Jefferson in the second half.
The LSU quarterback ran for 63 yards in the second half, and the Tigers, who finished with 260 yards rushing, simply dominated on the ground.
In the second half, they scored touchdowns on all three of their drives after halftime and held the ball for 21:59.
"They had three drives that were just... they were long," Dooley said. "It's like bleeding to death."
The Vols are hoping to find a tourniquet before they head to Tuscaloosa for a 7:15 p.m. kickoff against No. 2 Alabama next week.
Despite the outcome against LSU, Dooley said there were some encouraging signs.
Chief among those was a revived running game, led by Poole, who finished with 70 yards on 19 carries. The Vols ran for 111 yards against LSU after finishing with negative rushing totals in their two previous SEC games, both losses, against Florida and Georgia.
"Matt (Simms) did some good things," Dooley said. "He helped us in the run game. He deserves some credit for that."
True freshman Devrin Young sparked the return game again, namely with a career-high 60-yard return in the third quarter. And true freshman linebacker A.J. Johnson had his best game yet, leading all players with 11 tackles.
But, ultimately, Tennessee gave up a few too many plays and couldn't find many of its own.
"When you play teams like that, turnovers are critical, and you can't make bad mistakes," Dooley said. "I'm not upbeat, no. I saw some good things.
"But that game was not complex."
Tennessee will return to the gridiron next Saturday with just its second road contest of the season. The Vols will travel to Tuscaloosa to tangle with No. 2 Alabama at 7:15 p.m. ET on Oct. 22. The contest will be televised on ESPN2.