Tennessee’s first game of the post-Butch Jones era will come at a cost, and that cost is playing the ever-so-physical No. 20 LSU Tigers in Neyland Stadium. The Vols’ struggling run defense faces a stiff test in trying to stop Derrius Guice, who’s rushed for more than 400 yards in his past three games.
With Brady Hoke at the helm, what chance (if any) do the Vols have of stopping Guice and moving the ball on one of the better defenses in the SEC?
While I do expect a re-energized Vol team to take the field on Saturday night, it’s going to take more than energy and the home crowd to beat this LSU team. Guice is one of the best backs in the SEC, and the Vols haven’t proven they can stop any ground attack this season — let alone a good one.
What about on offense? The Tigers’ defensive front isn’t as menacing as you might imagine. One of LSU’s best defenders, hybrid linebacker Arden Key, didn’t make the trip to Knoxville. Also, LSU hasn’t been terribly great up front, but the Tigers boast a solid secondary. Can John Kelly find room to run, even with a makeshift offensive line? I don’t buy it. I also don’t buy the Vols passing their way to a win.
LSU 38, Tennessee 10
Key players: John Kelly, Quart’e Sapp
LSU rolls into Knoxville off of a 23-point win over Arkansas. In its three losses, the Tigers have averaged 148.7 yards on the ground and scored five touchdowns. If Tennessee can slow down the run game and contain Guice, the Vols have a chance to pull the upset.
By stopping the run, the self-proclaimed “No Fly Zone” secondary will have to back up its talk. The secondary has produced turnovers, and they’ll need to do so again tonight.
I can see an upset building. John Kelly and Ty Chandler need to produce big games to complement whichever quarterback takes the field. Meanwhile, only two receivers (Marquez Callaway, 3, and Ethan Wolf, 2) have multiple touchdowns this season. Both need to be red zone targets. Hoke needs to control the flow of the game. Tennessee has a chance to shock the SEC in prime time and prove that the team’s biggest problem was Butch Jones.
Tennessee 27, LSU 24
Key players: Ethan Wolf, Jonathan Kongbo
Whether it’s a recovering Jarrett Guarantano or freshman Will McBride at quarterback for Tennessee, it’s going to be a long night for the Volunteer offense. LSU’s defense has carried a less-than-stellar offense to a 7-3 record and No. 20 ranking, and the Tigers should take advantage of a depleted Tennessee offensive line.
On the other side of the ball, the home team should be able to slow down the LSU passing game, but it seems unlikely that the Vols can contain Guice and company on the ground.
The Vols are playing for pride and bowl eligibility, which makes them dangerous, but not dangerous enough to overcome a superior LSU team.
LSU 34, Tennessee 13
Key players: John Kelly, Colton Jumper
The Vols are facing one of their hardest offensive tasks yet, and the defense isn’t getting any better. Jarrett Guarantano will hopefully return from injury to get the offense in a rhythm, but with star running back Guice on the other side of the ball, the defensive line has a large hill to climb.
LSU 35, Tennessee 10
Key players: Marquez Callaway, Kendal Vickers