No. 1 LSU (6-0, 3-0) at Tennessee (3-2, 0-2)
2:30 p.m. at Neyland Stadium/Knoxville, Tenn.
WDGL-FM 98.1; XM 200; Sirius 219/CBS
Series record: The Volunteers lead the series 20-8-3 and are 11-2-1 against LSU in Knoxville. The Tigers won the last meeting in Neyland Stadium and have won three in a row – the first time they’ve ever won consecutive games vs. Tennessee.
In the spotlight: DE Sam Montgomery (6-4, 245, So.)
Season stats: 21 tackles, 5½ tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble
After a slow start, Montgomery has gained a head of steam the last few weeks with a sack in each of the last two games and a more dominant presence as a pass rusher. Facing a Tennessee offense that averages 37 pass attempts a contest and is now in the hands of a backup quarterback, Matt Simms, who is notorious for holding onto the too long at times, Montgomery gets the cliché chance all defensive ends dream of – pinning his ears back and going after the quarterback. The Volunteers are the first heavily pass-oriented team the Tigers have faced since West Virginia’s Geno Smith dissected them for 463 passing yards, but UT is a little different in that it looks downfield more, especially for talented wideout Da’Rick Rogers and his big-play ability. That means the QB has to hold the ball a little longer, which equates to more chances for LSU to add to its sack total. The Tigers dumped Simms five times last season and could be in store for an even busier day, especially Montgomery.
Schedule (6-0, 3-0)
Sept. 3 LSU 40, #3 Oregon 27
Sept. 10 LSU 49, Northwestern State 3
Sept. 15 LSU 19, #25 Mississippi State 6
Sept. 24 LSU 47, at #16 West Virginia 21
Oct. 1 LSU 35, Kentucky 7
Oct. 8 LSU 41, #17 Florida 11
Oct. 15 at Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. (CBS)
Oct. 22 Auburn, 2:30 p.m. (CBS)
Nov. 5 at Alabama, TBA
Nov. 12 Western Kentucky, TBA
Nov. 19 at Ole Miss, TBA
Nov. 25 Arkansas, 1:30 p.m. (CBS)
Dec. 3 SEC Championship Game
In the spotlight: WR Da’Rick Rogers (6-3, 215, So.)
Season stats: 32 receptions for 513 yards, 6 TDs. He ranks second in the SEC in catches and yards and is tied for the lead for receiving scores.
For Tennessee to have any shot against LSU’s defense, the Volunteers need to capture lightning in a bottle whenever and wherever they can and Rogers is their best chance to do so. He has caught at least five passes in every game this season, with three games of 100 yards or more. Of his reception total, 25 of those grabs have resulted in either first downs or touchdowns. He obviously has his work cut out with a backup quarterback running the offense and likely one-on-one matchups with Morris Claiborne and Tharold Simon all day long. But if Rogers can find a crease early in the game and get open long enough for Matt Simms to get him the ball for a deep throw, especially if he could break a tackle or two, it could go a long way toward loosening up the Tigers and planting a seed of doubt – perhaps a flashback to the West Virginia game. A big day for Rogers could equal a big day for the Vols’ offense and even the playing field against the favored Tigers.
Injuries: QB Tyler Bray (thumb) out, WR Naz Oliver (ankle) out, WR Justin Hunter (knee) out, LB Herman Lathers (ankle) out, CB Geraldo Orta (shoulder) out, TB Tauren Poole (hamstring) questionable, LB Austin Johnson (knee) probable
Schedule (3-2, 0-2)
Sept. 3 Tennessee 42, Montana 16
Sept. 10 Tennessee 45, Cincinnati 23
Sept. 17 #16 Florida 33, Tennessee 23
Oct. 1 Tennessee 41, Buffalo 10
Oct. 8 Georgia 20, Tennessee 12
Oct. 15 vs. #LSU, 2:30 p.m. (CBS)
Oct. 22 at #2 Alabama, 6:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Oct. 29 South Carolina, TBA
Nov. 5 Middle Tennessee, TBA
Nov. 12 at Arkansas, TBA
Nov. 19 Vanderbilt, TBA
Nov. 26 at Kentucky, TBA
Three keys to the game
1. Get in his head early and often: Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms was a backup the last seven games last season and for the first five games of 2011 for a reason, and it’s vital that the LSU defense do whatever it can to rattle the senior signal-caller and see what his decision-making skills are like. If the Tigers are successful at that and force the Volunteers and Simms into some early mistakes, it could wind up being an awfully long.
2. Seize momentum, remove any doubt: LSU did the first half of this last season when Jordan Jefferson blasted through the middle of UT’s defense for an 83-yard touchdown on the first offensive snap. But until a pair of Jarrett Lee-led fourth-quarter drives, the offense sputtered and coughed most of the game and turned the ball over a season-high four times. A repeat herky-jerky performance could allow the wounded Vols to stick around like last year, the difference being they’ll have a home crowd as a backbone. So LSU needs a quick start like it got against Florida to allow the offense to relax and the defense to be aggressive.
3. Be who you are: As well as the Tigers are clicking, there’s no reason to upset the apple cart much. Run the ball like they have to set up the play-action, play nasty defense and stay within the confines that have allowed them to win their first six games by double digits. Jordan Jefferson may need to play a bigger role sooner or later, but there’s no reason to rush that as long as the offense is producing, or continue to use him in certain situations. Transitioning to a more traditional 4-3 defense might be a necessity against teams with better running attacks, but no need to tinker with what’s working now – the 4-2-5 with Tyrann Mathieu roaming all over the field and terrorizing offenses. Coaches sometimes tend to adjust just to adjust, but with this team, which is still young and evolving, sticking to the status quo is a perfect recipe until change is required.
Three times already this season, the Tigers left Baton Rouge to play a ranked opponent, each who was better than Tennessee is right now with a backup quarterback and a rash of injuries taking a toll on both sides of the ball. LSU’s bread-and-butter will remain the same with the power running game and Jarrett Lee pops a few early downfield throws to provide some wiggle room. Motivated by how West Virginia passed the ball, the Tigers’ defense will stifle the Volunteers early on, forcing some frustration to seep in. UT might eventually find some success throwing the ball as much as it does, but the Vols’ talent level and explosive potential are nowhere near that of Oregon, West Virginia, Mississippi State or Florida and LSU managed to hold those offenses in check. This one will look a lot closer than it really is…LSU 35, Tennessee 17