Tennessee Vols Football: Report Card Grades Following the LSU Game
According to the script, this one wasn't supposed to be close. Based on the talent differential between the two teams, the scriptwriters couldn't have been any more accurate in that assessment.
The game followed that expectation to a tee.
Tennessee kept it close in the first half, and it would have been even closer if not for an 89-yard interception return that set up LSU's first score of the game in the first quarter.
There were some positives and many negatives for the Vols against the No. 1 team in the nation.
Here's how the Vols graded out against the Tigers.
For a guy making his first start at quarterback in nearly a year versus the No. 1 team in the nation, Matt Simms could have been worse. Unfortunately for Simms and the Vols, he was bad enough in the first half to help the Tigers get out to an insurmountable lead early.
The score was only 17-7 at halftime, but against this talented defense, the Vols would have had to play nearly perfect to come back.
Simms' first interception led to an 89-yard return by Maurice Claiborne to Tennessee's five yard line. The Tigers scored their first touchdown a few plays later.
On the Vols next drive, Da'Rick Rogers dropped a pass, and Simms' third down pass attempt sailed over Mychal Rivera's head as Simms was hurried. The Vols had to punt from their own endzone, which set up great field position and an eventual touchdown for LSU.
Simms threw his second INT on the next Tennessee drive.
The senior finished 6-of-20 for 128 yards and two interceptions.
Tauren Poole looked like a man possessed on the Vols lone touchdown drive of the day. On that drive, the senior racked up 30 yards on eight attempts and scored the Vols only points of the day.
Later, Poole had a 22-yard run that set the Vols up at the LSU 30, but Tennessee went backwards from there.
Poole ended up with 70 yards on 19 carries.
Freshman Marlin Lane pitched in 43 yards on six carries. And Rajion Neal had one attempt for five yards.
Tennessee's go-to receiver Da'Rick Rogers looked disinterested early on with multiple dropped passes and an apparent lack of will to disrupt Claiborne on the interception near the goal line, but once he started mixing it up with Tyrann Mathieu, Rogers appeared to step it up a bit.
Still, the sophomore was the only wide receiver to catch a pass against the Tigers. Zach Rogers dropped multiple passes, and tight end Mychal Rivera was rarely targeted by Simms.
Da'Rick Rogers ended up with 63 yards receiving on three catches.
While Simms was hurried four times, the quarterback was not sacked one time.
The line was clearly better in the run game as well. Tennessee's front line was physical and finished their blocks, allowing Tennessee to run the ball well against the No. 4 rushing defense in the country.
Not a bad feat considering Tennessee had a combined negative-29 rushing yards in their first two SEC games of the season.
The Vols defensive line came to play. Malik Jackson had eight tackles. Daniel Hood had a sack. And Marlon Walls had one tackle for loss.
Early on, the Vols front seven stymied LSU running back Spencer Ware.
The Tigers sustained a seven minute drive to open the second half and pretty much had their way with the Vols defense from that point on.
Freshman AJ Johnson's physical strength and ability showed with his game-high 11 tackles.
Fellow freshman Curt Maggitt and senior Austin Johnson combined for 13 tackles of their own.
Another week, another cornerback burned on multiple plays by more athletic wide receivers.
Marsalis Teague continues to get blown by and beat out for big yardage. Teague got played by LSU receiver Reuben Randle on a 45-yard reception that set up the Tigers final score of the first half—a field goal.
Izauea Lanier was picked on a bit early in the second half, but LSU eventually stopped passing when they realized they could push the Tennessee defense all over the field on the ground.
One of the few brights spots on the day was perhaps Tennessee's most consistently maligned unit. The Vols played very well on special teams.
Kick returner Devrin Young had 135 return yards on five attempts, including a 60-yard return in the fourth quarter.
Punter Matt Darr only averaged 36.8 yards on four punt attempts, but he landed two of those attempts inside the 20, one of which was downed on LSU's one yard line.
Both of Michael Palardy's kickoffs were returned 34 yards from the LSU goal line.
Coaching didn't cost the Vols in this one, but you can't lose 38-7 and finish higher than a C, even if that lopsided loss is to the No. 1 team in the nation.
The decision to blitz on third and 11 from the Vols 13 yard line led to an easy toss and catch to put the Tigers up 14-0.
Tennessee's commitment to the run was nice to see, and there was obvious improvement from last week to this in both the o-line's blocking and Poole's running.
With such a vast talent differential between the two teams, Tennessee would've had to be near perfect to compete in this game.
Matt Simms early interceptions set the tone, and the Tigers ability to run the ball with relative ease throughout the second half put this one on ice.
It appears the Vols finally have something to look forward to on punts and kickoffs with the emergence of returner Devrin Young.
It was nice to see Tennessee end up with positive yards in the rushing game for the first time against an SEC team this season.
The defense looked great early, but the Vols' issues with depth and youth reared its ugly head in the second half.