SIX-PACK: With Andrew Gribble

GoVols.com beat writer weighs in with his thoughts on the No. 1-ranked Tigers and Volunteers showdown in Knoxville this weekend.

SIX-PACK

1) With Tyler Bray out, what does Matt Simms bring to the QB spot? LSU fans got a taste of Simms in 2010, but how will the Tennessee offense look with him running the show this week?


Simms isn't nearly as talented, but he's a bona fide leader. He already had the team's respect after the way he hung tough through the beginning of last season, but he truly gained their respect by attacking the offseason and carrying a mindset that he wasn't just the backup quarterback. That, perhaps, rubbed off on Bray a bit, who had a great offseason as well despite the lack of "true competition." Of course, there's a drop off in talent from Bray to Simms and everyone's aware of that – even Simms. But it could be worse. Simms has experience and has a good arm. His biggest issue is holding on to the ball too long in the pocket. I don't think the approach will change much under Simms, but the downfield passing game could drop off a bit.

2) LSU fans are familiar with Justin Hunter from the time he was committed to the Tigers. His injury hurts the game plan on offense, but what other players have emerged to become playmakers in his absence, especially at receiver as much as the Vols like to throw it?

It can be argued that the loss of Hunter is much more significant to UT than the loss of Bray. With Bray, the Vols have someone who can actually take over the role and fill it at least admirably. Without Hunter, the Vols are just one very good player down in their receiving corps. The theory all along is that the Vols would replace Hunter "by committee." That hasn't exactly happened yet. Against Buffalo, it was star WR Da' Rick Rogers who stepped up his game and put up huge numbers. Against Georgia, Rogers wasn't able to repeat that type of performance, but TE Mychal Rivera had a big game. The Vols need more out of guys like Zach Rogers, DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas, but that's yet to be seen.

3) With Tennessee ranked 114th out of 120 FBS schools in rushing offense, averaging 84.8 yards a game, what have the problems been running the ball?

As one coach described it, there have been "small fires" in every facet of the running game. The offensive line isn't showing much, if any, improvement when it pertains to the running game.
It's odd because all of the players were highly recruited and they're all very good at pass protection. Some former players have speculated that the current players simply don't have that "dog" in them to block with ferocity. Compounding matters is the lack of a big-play threat among the running backs. Tauren Poole is a good running back, but not a great one. He's struggled to do much with the few big holes he's received and he's not enough of a playmaker to make something out of nothing. Freshman Marlin Lane has flashed potential on passing plays, but has appeared hesitant on straight runs.

4) The Tennessee-LSU game was a memorable one in 2010, and the Volunteers players certainly couldn't have taken the loss lightly. How much has that been brought up much this week and what kind of impact do you think it could have on Tennessee's motivation?

The loss of Bray and how devastating the loss to Georgia was has largely overshadowed that kind of chatter. A few players, though, have only mentioned that game as a confidence-booster, not as a reason to shake their head and lament what could have been. The Vols took pride in hanging with LSU for 60 minutes and almost escaping Death Valley with a huge win. The sting has worn off, so now they're doing what all college football athletes and coaches do when seeking outlets for motivation: Spin a negative into a positive.

5) With the return of Jordan Jefferson, LSU coach Les Miles hasn't been hesitant to mix his backup quarterback into the mix as a running threat to Jarrett Lee's arm. With a strong run game that sets up the pass, how will the Volunteers approach LSU's offensive attack?

The Vols defense hasn't been great at anything this season, but it's been surprisingly good at stopping the run. They limited Georgia's Isaiah Crowell to his lowest rushing output of the season and they stuffed a number of plays at the line of scrimmage. Mobile quarterbacks, though, have been tough for the Vols to stop. Even Buffalo's Chazz Anderson was able to break off a big gain. The combination of a mobile quarterback and an extremely physical offensive line will test the Vols more than they have all season, but they'd probably rather face a team with that kind of offensive mentality than one that is pass-heavy because the secondary continues to miss Janzen Jackson.

6) How do you see this game playing out?

There have been Doomsday proclamations all over Knoxville since the Georgia loss. I don't think it will be nearly as dire as the negative vocal minority does, but I also don't think it will come down to a fluke play at the end, either. I've got LSU winning this, 31-13, but the game will be more competitive than the score indicates.

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