The No. 8 Tennessee Volunteers (4-0, 1-0 SEC) will travel to Baton Rouge to take on the No. 25 LSU Tigers (4-1, 2-0 SEC) in its first SEC road trip of the season.
Here is everything you need to know about the looming Top 25 matchup:
Tennessee didn’t see action last week as they were scheduled a bye. However, the week before featured a home matchup with a Top 25 Florida team.
Led by Hendon Hooker, the Vols slayed their demon and took down the Gators 38-33. It appeared the game was wrapped up when Tennessee took a 17-point lead but Florida stormed back and had the ball to finish the game down five with a chance to win. However, a Kamal Hadden interception sealed the game.
Hooker finished with 349 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air and 112 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. This mark made him the leading rusher of the game.
Hooker’s favorite target was Bru McCoy. With Cedric Tillman out with an injury, McCoy was forced to step up his production. He did exactly that with 102 yards and a touchdown including a huge 70-yard reception.
Ramel Keyton and Jalin Hyatt also had good games with 69 and 58 yards, respectively.
Out of the backfield, Jabari Small led the charge with 90 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. He also added 32 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. Jaylen Wright pitched in with 25 rushing yards and a score.
Defensively, Jeremy Banks and Hadden led the team in tackles with seven. The team finished with a single sack and four tackles for loss. They also surrendered an abysmal 5-of-6 fourth down attempts from the Gators.
The way Florida found success was through quarterback Anthony Richarson. He had a field day through the air against the weak defensive secondary totaling 453 passing yards and converting for his first two passing scores of the season. He also added 62 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Overall, the offense carried Tennessee to the win but the defense came through when it mattered. The Vols almost got in their own way of winning at the end but still found a way to finish on top. Under the brightest lights imaginable, Tennessee finally didn’t disappoint.
To begin the year, the Tigers stumbled in a one-point loss to Florida State. Since then, they’ve bounced back with wins over Southern, Mississippi State, New Mexico and Auburn. In the SEC, they rank seventh in yards per game, eighth in passing yards and fifth in rushing yards. (Tennessee ranks first, first and sixth.)
Leading the seemingly mediocre offense is Arizona State transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels. He is currently the team’s leading passer and rusher. So far, he’s thrown for 183 yards per game with six touchdowns and 0 interceptions. On the ground, he’s rushed for 64.2 yards per game and three touchdowns.
Heading into the year, Kayshon Boutte was assumed to be a key cog in the offense but he has struggled so far. He is sitting at sixth on the team in receiving yards at 24.3 yards per game in four appearances. Instead, it is a wide spread of targets from Daniels. Mike Nabors and Brian Thomas Jr. are currently carrying the most significant load of the offense with averages of 58 and 37.2 yards per game, respectively.
Outside of Daniels, the running game features four different backs who have already hit the 100-yard mark. Armoni Goodwin and Noah Cain lead with 199 and 189 yards on the season.
On defense, the leading tacklers are Jay Ward, Harold Perkins, Mehki Wingo and Greg Penn III. The headliner on the defensive side is BJ Ojulari, though. He leads the team in sacks with 3.5 and has forced a fumble. Two safeties and two linebackers have also come away with interceptions.
Overall, LSU is just a score away from being undefeated and ranked higher in the AP Poll. However, they have also looked unimpressive in games such as its close win over Auburn. Neither the offense nor defense jumps out as an elite unit but the roster and coaching are solid enough to win games.
Vols vs. Tigers History
Dating back to a 0-0 tie in 1925, the two programs have already met on the gridiron 33 times including two SEC Championships. Tennessee leads the all-time series 20-10-3 but has lost the last five meetings dating back to 2006.
Although the Tigers claim the current win streak, Tennessee has the longest streak in the series with 12 wins without forfeiting a loss. This stretch from 1934 to 1972 also featured the most lopsided score in the form of a 28-0 win for Tennessee.
The last time the Vols traveled to Baton Rouge was in 2010. After it appeared Tennessee won the game, LSU got a second attempt to score after the Vols were penalized for too many men on the field. They converted and won 16-14 to keep their then-undefeated season alive and avoid the upset.
5 Key Goals to the Game
Tennessee has gone from the best first quarter team in the country to the 17th. This is still an impressive mark but not near where the Vols need to be. If Tennessee can get out to a quick start it will not only give itself insurance and room to breathe but also may quiet a rowdy crowd.
Defensive secondary needs to step up
Against Florida, Richardson torched the Tennessee secondary throughout the game. Daniels may not be as talented as Richardson, but he has the skill and weapons to move the ball against a flimsy pass defense. The Vols will need to step up in this aspect of the game if they want to keep LSU off the board and take pressure off the offense. Dee Williams will be seeing his first game as a Vol and could make an impact Tennessee desperately needs.
Bru McCoy needs to continue his impressive play
With Cedric Tillman looking likely to miss a second straight game, Tennessee will need receivers to step up in his spot. Last week, McCoy met the challenge with 102 yards and a touchdown. Hyatt and Keyton will also likely get their fair share of reps but McCoy must come up with big plays to keep the Tiger defense on their heels.
No silly mistakes
The pressure is on for every game the Vols play. Not only are Tennessee fans locked into the undefeated season, but the nation is tuning in and awaiting a slip-up. The team needs to put this pressure aside and limit avoidable mistakes. Special teams errors and turnovers are killers in tight games on the road and can’t make an appearance if the Vols hope to win.
Don’t look forward to Alabama
It’s been announced that the Third Saturday in October will be featured on the 3:30 CBS timeslot as it could be a battle between two undefeated Top 10 squads. However, LSU still poses a massive threat to the Vols. If Tennessee comes out slow, it could find itself in trouble. I can’t imagine Josh Heupel will let his team have a lapse in focus during the trip to Baton Rouge, though.
Tennessee is favored in this game. Tennessee is the higher-ranked team. Tennessee got lucky with an 11 a.m. local-time kickoff. Tennessee is a more talented team. Tennessee should win this game.
But will the Vols beat the Tigers?
It’s not that simple.
LSU broke into the Top 25 this week for a reason. They’re a competent team that can compete with most programs in the country. They looked impressive against another high-powered offense in Mississippi State holding it to just 16 points. The offense has sputtered at times but finished strong against Auburn and rolled over Southern, Mississippi State and New Mexico. Tennessee will likely get the best version of the Tigers as it’s their biggest game to date of the young season.
Despite this, I think Tennessee will barely edge out LSU. The Vols’ offense will be too dynamic for the Tigers’ defense and move the ball at will. Hooker will throw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns while McCoy will go for over 100 and a score, as well. LSU will struggle offensively at times but punch it in enough to keep it close. Ultimately, Tennessee will stay undefeated heading into its matchup with Alabama.
Tennessee – 35
LSU – 34
Game Time and Coverage
Kickoff is at 12 EST in Baton Rouge, La. at Tiger Stadium. The game airs on ESPN and TNJN will have more coverage following the game.
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org