The big question coming into this game was how much of a fight Tennessee would show now that they have finally fired Butch Jones. Teams can often get a motivational bounce the week after they get rid of an unpopular head coach, though that theory did not play out for Florida.*
*Ed. Note: I know Florida isn’t at all relevant to this game, and there’s no logical reason to bring the Gators up in the postgame recap, particularly in the lede, but Florida getting their doors blown off is never not funny.
The Vols came out of the gate fired up and intense. They bottled up the LSU offense, repeatedly forcing three and outs, while also making a pretty good show of moving the football. The crows picked up on the energy of the team and suddenly, we had ourselves a football game. LSU found itself in the one thing they did not want, a close game.
Luckily, intensity and energy can only bring you part of the way. Tennessee, no matter how motivated they are, still is a pretty bad football team. It was only a matter of time before they found a way to self-destruct, and the Wheel of Fortuna landed on “special teams gaffes.”
Marquez Callaway fumbled the ball on two separate punt returns, placing LSU inside the red zone both times. LSU cashed in those chips to the tune of 10 points, and it was enough of a cushion until the LSU offense got itself out of neutral.
After managing a mere 41 yards of offense for the first half, LSU finally sprung to life with two and a half minutes left in the second quarter. The Tigers gained 61 yards on three plays in under 30 seconds, Danny Etling scoring a touchdown unmolested on a designed quarterback run. There was no way LSU was going to blow a 14-point lead against this Tennessee team even under normal conditions.
And these were not normal conditions.
The weather tonight was less than ideal from the kick, with swirling winds wreaking havoc on any ball in the air, and even tearing a piece of metal off of the scoreboard. However, at the half, the weather went from bad to downright biblical. Heavy rains knocked out some of the stadium lights, ESPN cameras, and even the referee’s microphone.
But ugly football is LSU football, and the near monsoon clearly helped out the Tigers. The Vols muffed the opening kickoff of the second half, moved backwards to the cusp of their own goalline, and then punted the ball away.
LSU responded by running the ball right down the Vols’ throats. With the passing game not even a remotely viable option due to the weather, Canada called for a heavy diet of Darrel Williams and Derrius Guice. It ended in the end zone, and the rout was essentially on.
LSU would extend the lead to twenty on a Darrel Williams touchdown, but let’s give credit to Tennessee. They didn’t give up on this game. They went down throwing haymakers. Williams scored thanks to a short field, as Tennessee went for on fourth and inches, the second time in the game they went for it in that situation. Well, it worked the first time.
Jarrett Guarantano connected with Jeff George for a 60 yard gain, getting Tennessee into the red zone. Tennessee got seven shots at end zone thanks to Donte Jackson flipping off the student section on 3rd and a mile, but all’s well that ends well, as Tennessee wouldn’t gain a yard on its next four plays, a pass falling harmlessly incomplete on fourth and ten.
It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from this game. The Vols are a bad team and while they showed more fight than they had all season, they wilted as the game wore on. Additionally, the game was played in the kind of weather that, and I swear this is true, cause my mother to give me a call because it reminded her of all of the neighborhood football games we used to play as kids when it snowed or rained.
This game was similar to last week: the Tigers got their blowout win, but it took awhile. And if your biggest complaint is how long it took LSU to blow a team out, then you really don’t have much to complain about. It was almost the same score as last week, but again, Connor Culp missed multiple kicks.
The only real complaint is that Orgeron again did not go to the bench to give some of next year’s contributors a chance to see meaningful action. Myles Brennan sat on the bench in the fourth quarter as LSU protected a three touchdown lead, as Etling continually handed the ball to Derrius Guice. But a case could be made the game was still in doubt, so the starters had to stay in to secure the victory.
LSU did what they needed to do. They notched another win, further improved their bowl position, and simply had a bunch of fun. The numbers weren’t really there for the individuals, but the numbers that counted, the ones on the scoreboard, were there.
One more. Finish this one up.