Who has the edge?
Jarrett Lee showed another level of sharpness last week with a crisp, if not busy, passing day against Florida with two of the best passes of his career to Rueben Randle. Plus, Jordan Jefferson appears to be rounding into form throwing the ball. That combination compared to a backup who lost the job for producing less than Lee did in 2008 makes this a huge advantage for the Tigers.
Running back: LSU
Spencer Ware and a healthy Tauren Poole might be pretty close to a wash, although there are few backs I’d take in front of Ware, period, at this point. But Poole isn’t healthy and the Volunteers don’t have anywhere close to the depth or experience LSU can trot out when Ware needs a break. Wouldn’t be a surprise if you see two Tigers top 100 yards this week.
Receivers/tight ends: LSU
Da’Rick Rogers is one of the SEC’s most dynamic playmakers and will have his chances to do damage against one of the country’s top secondaries because Tennessee figures to throw the ball early, often and from behind. If Justin Hunter was healthy, this would be the Vols’ category. He’s not, Randle has left little doubt that he’s on par with Rogers and the Tigers supporting cast is getting better and deeper every week. Oh, and it looked like somebody woke DeAngelo Peterson up last week, bolstering LSU even more in this department.
Offensive line: LSU
Another week, another starting combination for LSU and you know what? The Tigers aren’t likely to miss a beat. LSU’s depth and experience – not to mention some talented guys – up front have become the backbone of this offense. As good as Tennessee has been at pass protection, the Vols can’t run their way out of a wet paper bag, which doesn’t bode well against the Tigers. Nor does the thought of a UT o-line with Matt Simms’ tendency to hold onto the ball too long.
Defensive line: LSU
Kinda like the receiver spot, Tennessee has some very good players on the defensive front but nowhere close to the depth the Tigers can roll in and out. As talented as Malik Jackson is and has stout against the UT run defense can be, he and his mates up front have recorded only 4½ sacks among them and that’s contributed to the Vols being susceptible to the pass.
While the LSU linebacking corps has remained non-descript – in large part because of youth and inexperience – this layer of Tennessee’s defense has been a bright spot and provided Derek Dooley and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox some hope for the future. Senior Austin Johnson is the Volunteers’ top tackler with 34 and true freshmen Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson have adjusted quickly to SEC football with 21 stops apiece. Ryan Baker and Kevin Minter have been solid the last two weeks, but the body of work this season gives UT a nod here.
The most one-sided stat separating the two teams here: Tennessee has one interception in 145 opponent passing attempts and LSU has three DBs with two picks. Those numbers may get even wider this week with Simms in and Lee protecting the ball so well. With the Vols so one-dimensional, the Tigers’ secondary could have a massive day.
Special teams: LSU
For the most part, the Vols and Tigers are both middle of the road in the SEC in the different kicking-game units. But LSU is much better on field goals with Drew Alleman and especially at punter, with Brad Wing. The Tigers rank third in net punting in the SEC (40.6), while Tennessee is bringing up the rear (34.1)