The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 12th-ranked LSU Tigers put their undefeated record on the line this weekend as they welcome the Tennessee Volunteers to Baton Rouge for an SEC showdown.
Tennessee managed to even its overall record at 2-2 last weekend, but the 32-29 overtime victory over UAB at home was a bit closer than most fans would prefer. The Vols, who are under the guidance of first-year head coach Derek Dooley, were blown out by Oregon and lost by two touchdowns to Florida, so they have yet to prove that they can be competitive against top-notch competition.
As for LSU, it has already beaten a pair of ranked foes, including a 20-14 victory over West Virginia last week. The Tigers are 4-0, including 2-0 in SEC action, and Les Miles' team has allowed 14 or fewer points in three of the four games to date.
Tennessee owns a commanding 20-7-3 series edge over LSU, and the teams last met in 2007.
The Tennessee offense is led by young Matt Simms, son of former NFL great Phil Simms. A first-year starter, Simms has completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 836 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions through four outings. Simms threw the biggest pass of his career in overtime against UAB last weekend, as his 25-yard scoring strike to Denarius Moore was the difference in the contest.
"He (Denarius Moore) was my first read on the play, came off the play action, the safety flat footed there for a split-second and that was all the time I needed to make my decision," said Simms. "I just tried to put it in a place where he could go up and get it and jump over the corner and that is exactly what he did."
Tauren Poole has emerged as the top tailback for Tennessee, as he has rushed for 318 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards per attempt. Unfortunately, he suffered a thigh injury against UAB and is listed as questionable for Saturday's affair. As for the receivers, Moore is currently tops for Tennessee with 14 grabs for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
The Vols have failed to reach the 20-point plateau in either of their two games against ranked foes to date. They are generating 361.2 total ypg, a figure that would certainly be much better if not for the fact that the team is a miserable 11-of-58 on third-down conversion attempts.
Defensively, Tennessee is yielding 362.5 total ypg, and while six rushing touchdowns have been allowed compared to just five passing scores, the Vols have actually played better against the pass than the run. They have a modest total of six takeaways through four games and are clearly led by Nick Reveiz, who has posted 39 total tackles, including 3.5 TFLs.
Against UAB, the Vols were victimized for 544 total yards, including 429 via the pass. They allowed a high average of 13 yards per completion, much more concerning than the 3.6 yards per rushing attempt that they surrendered. The Blazers scored three touchdowns in that tilt, including two through the air, and they finished with 92 offensive plays, including 60 passes.
"We just kept fighting," said Dooley after the win. "That's the only thing we did well. We didn't tackle. We didn't line up right. We blew coverages."
Through four games, LSU is generating 299.8 total ypg, and there is definitely room for improvement on the offensive side of the football. Sure, the team is posting a respectable 26.5 ppg, but that figure is largely due to the play of the defense and special teams. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson has been ineffective as a passer, completing just 54.4 percent of his tosses for 419 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. No receiver is averaging 50 receiving yards per contest, and many fans of the program are calling for Jarrett Lee to be inserted under center.
As for the ground attack, Steven Ridley certainly looks the part of a featured back. Ridley has rushed for 434 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 5.8 ypc. Last week against West Virginia, Ridley rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown, but LSU posted a mere 230 total yards in that tilt. Jefferson was just 10-of-22 for 75 yards with two interceptions.
"We can run the football well," Miles said. "We didn't throw it as well as we would have liked. Our quarterback play has got to get better. It's just that simple."
As mentioned, LSU has been tremendous defensively, yielding a mere 12.0 ppg and 254.0 total ypg. The play against the run has been superb, as the Tigers are holding foes to 74.8 ypg and 2.2 yards per carry. LSU is permitting a 28 percent success rate on third-down conversion attempts and has posted 11 sacks to date.
Last week, the Tigers held the Mountaineers to 177 total yards and forced a pair of turnovers, a tremendous effort in front of the home crowd.
"We just played our second nationally-ranked team and won," said Miles. "Our football team is playing great on defense."
The man to watch on the defensive side of the ball, as well as on special teams, is defensive back Patrick Peterson, who is one of the finest athletes in the nation. Peterson, who has two interceptions to his credit, has also returned two punts for touchdowns and is averaging 31.7 yards per kickoff return.