Vols
Show Me My Opponent: LSU

WELCOME BACK! I swore off writing these until Butch Jones was fired. He’s been fired. I also work a Mysterious Day Job so that’s drained my time. However, I couldn’t wait to bring this back.

I want to thank those who have kept supporting the brand for the last few weeks. Our brand here is strong, as evidenced by thousands of you people watching Jon Reed film a truck and a couple of planes. This is what we love. This is what gets us through the suck of the season. This is what makes us deserve the absolute best possible coach.

Anyway, there’s a game.


The Louisiana State Tigers are one of what I call The First Nine – the nine original SEC members that still reside in the conference today. From 1933 on, they’ve been, on average, the fourth-most successful SEC school nationally. Considering this still slots you within the top 15 teams of the last 80+ years, that’s not bad! However, this is where we can discuss recency bias: prior to Nick Saban’s arrival in 2000, LSU had finished ranked in the AP Poll just twice in the previous 11 seasons. They had their own decade of suck. In fact, from 1962 to 1987, LSU didn’t finish in the top five. It’s crazy to think about this now – LSU’s won two titles in the last 14 years, made the title game a third time, and has produced six top ten finishes since 2001 – but they once really sucked.

You know all the hullabaloo about Tennessee not losing an eighth game? LSU’s done that twice, and they even went 2-9 once in 1992. Tennessee, historically, is better at football than Louisiana State. Of course, historical context doesn’t quite place LSU in the positive situation they’re in now, where they can lock down a pretty talented state of their own in recruiting if they want to.

This year’s LSU is closest spiritually to the 2014 team that also started at #13, also saw their season begin to spin out of control at the hands of Mississippi State, and also (likely) ended up in a somewhat disappointing bowl against a big-name opponent. (Their most likely opponent is Michigan State, but don’t discount the possibility they draw Michigan in the Outback Bowl.) That team crapped out a 17-0 loss to Arkansas in their penultimate regular season game. It’s possible! Just not probable.


Offense

It’s either Danny Etling, Myles Brennan, or Manny Brettling

All I can tell about this “battle” is that Etling’s hurt, but good enough to play…but also can get pulled pretty much whenever Orgeron feels like it. Here’s the scouting report from one of my very best friends, an LSU fan from Lake Charles:

Alright! There you go. For all the crap Etling takes from viewers, he actually ranks ahead of Jalen Hurts in QB rating. He’s tied for second in the SEC in yards per attempt. He’s thrown just two interceptions this season. It helps that he doesn’t attempt 20 passes a game, but still – he’s pretty efficient for what he is. Brennan isn’t someone I know much about – all I can share is that ESPN’s Total QBR rating has him right alongside Feleipe Franks, and you all hated Feleipe Franks, so there you go.

GUICE

OH GOD

DARREL WILLIAMS

Oh dear.

Tennessee’s defensive line versus one of the best run games out there

It’s not gonna be very fun. I’m hoping all the people who blew smoke up Brady Hoke’s 35 BMI rear this offseason about him being a great defensive line coach becomes real.


Defense

Actually a pretty sub-standard LSU DL

For the first time in my recent memory, this LSU defensive line isn’t one to fear all that much. They rank 88th in DL havoc rate, 58th in opponent rushing success rate, and 122nd in stuff rate (run plays that go for zero yards or less). While DE Christian LaCouture does have 5.5 sacks on the year and DE Frank Herron has five run stuffs, the rest of the line doesn’t impress me very much. However…

The linebackers are all-world

That’s Arden Key, who’s been suspiciously quiet this year (he’s double-teamed every single game) but has still been able to rack up four sacks and five run stuffs. As a unit, LSU’s linebackers rank 28th in havoc rate and are responsible for 16.5 sacks. Sixteen point five!!!!! That’s over 1.5 per game, which is nuts. Against Tennessee’s anti-world offensive line, they will run wild. Probably.

The secondary rules

You’re gonna be floored to hear this, but LSU has another great secondary. They rank 17th or higher in every single relevant category in Bill Connelly’s S&P+, and they’re a big reason why LSU has really settled down over the last five games. This unit is especially great on first downs (6th in defensive S&P+). Freshman Andraez Williams is a king: 10 PBUs and four interceptions!


Special Teams

Sorry, we’re trying to hire Gary Patterson. I don’t care about a mediocre special teams unit.


Conclusion

As I said earlier, I’m thrilled to be doing these again. Tennessee could’ve played Mercer this weekend and I would’ve done a deep dive. It’s time to care again. However, it must be said up front that this game doesn’t matter much in the long run. Tennessee’s fate this year is decided; it’ll take a two-touchdown underdog upset (which Tennessee has not won as since 2001 Florida) to even have a chance at making the Liberty Bowl. It is what it is. Let’s focus on the long-term goals here.

For Tennessee, a win does the following: it gives fans a huge positive boost, probably helps Brady Hoke get a better job in the near future, and can keep Tennessee’s four-year bowl streak alive. I don’t want to start another bowl-less streak, so I do care quite a bit about this.

For Tennessee, a loss doesn’t change anything. I think both sides will be content to make this game go slow and low, like a Crockpot, in cold, rainy weather. Neither side will have more than 65 snaps; the under feels like a lock. For the game, I like LSU 23, Tennessee 15.

Let’s talk about the search. Based on info I received this morning, I have good reason to doubt Jon Gruden will come to Tennessee. So I have a simple message for John Currie: if the next coach is not named Dan, Gary, Scott F., Mike G., or Chris, do not bother buying a house here. If you can’t pull in a Big Fish (never mind the White Whale), there’s a guy who’s currently biding his time in Chattanooga who can. They could’ve hired him over you last time, and you might be a little lucky they didn’t. Go prove him, and us, wrong.