Tennessee vs. No. 1 LSU: Don't Expect a Last-Second 2010 Repeat
The last time Tennessee played the No. 1 team in the country, Alabama in 2009, the Vols had a shot to upset the eventual national champion Crimson Tide team, but a blocked field goal as time expired preserved Alabama's 12-10 win.
That was a different Tennessee team.
True, the Vols did have a senior quarterback with an inconsistent career coming into the game much like this team has going into Saturday's game. The difference is, that quarterback was the starter in every game that season. Matt Simms is making his first start since Oct. 30, 2010, at South Carolina.
Simms also started against then-No. 12 LSU in Baton Rouge last October. In a low scoring affair, much like the '09 game at Alabama, the Vols lost in heart-crushing fashion.
This LSU Tigers bunch is a different animal than the one Simms and the Vols faced last season.
The 2011 version of the Bayou Bengals has already defeated four ranked teams by a combined 82 points, including a 13-point win over preseason Pac-12 favorite No. 3 Oregon in Week 1.
This LSU team has also found some semblance of an offense. The Tigers have scored 40 points or more in four of six games.
Scoring points on offense—or even moving the ball more than a couple yards at a time—was a struggle for the Tigers last year.
Do the Vols have a chance vs. No. 1 LSU?
That lack of offense was the biggest reason the Vols were leading the game at the end of the fourth quarter in Baton Rouge last season. That is, until the Tigers scored the game-winner on an untimed down following the Vols' infamous too-many-players-on-the-field gaffe.
Many Vols partisans continue to point to that game as a reason to hope that the Vols can compete against the Tigers this season.
There was little reason to believe Tennessee could even compete against LSU in that game, much like this season. One week prior to visiting Baton Rouge, Tennessee needed overtime to beat Alabama-Birmingham in Neyland Stadium.
In the game at LSU, Tennessee rushed for 96 yards on 37 carries. If you take out all the times that Simms was sacked, the Vols, led by Tauren Poole's 109 yards on the ground, finished with well over the century mark.
The Vols also picked off three LSU passes and forced a fumble.
On special teams, Michael Palardy missed a 45-yard field goal in the third quarter, but senior punter Chad Cunningham had a stellar day pinning LSU deep in their own territory.
Eric Gordon and Denarius Moore both had a good day in the return game as well.
If the Vols are to compete against LSU Saturday, they must be able to run the ball as good or better than they did last season.
In two SEC games this season, the Vols have negative-29 rushing yards. Senior running back Tauren Poole has rushed for 100-plus yards twice this season—versus Cincinnati and Buffalo.
LSU is No. 7 in the country against the rush, allowing just 2.3 yards per carry and just 69.2 yards per game.
Tennessee is slightly better in the return game than it was a year ago, but the Vols are a little worse kicking the ball.
As far as interceptions go, Tennessee hasn't picked off a pass since the first week of the season against Montana.
It certainly doesn't look good for the Vols heading into Saturday's game against No. 1 LSU. Every method the Vols used to keep the game close in Baton Rouge a season ago has seemingly turned 180-degrees against Tennessee.
Anything can happen in Neyland Stadium on Saturday. That's why they play the game on the field rather than on paper. But you'd be kidding yourself not to realize that the Vols must play a perfect game and reverse every single trend that it has fallen into through nearly half of the 2011 season.
Oh, and LSU has to buck its own trend of completely stifling every team it has faced to this point.
Is there a chance the Vols could win? Absolutely. Will it happen? Don't bet on it.
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