But Claiborne’s defensive mates – especially those from the secondary – didn’t hesitate to take a few jabs after Claiborne’s return came up 5 yards short of the end zone.
Tyrann Mathieu literally pounced on Claiborne right after he was tackled and told him exactly which cut he should’ve made to avoid getting caught.
Eric Reid piled on verbally but then pumped his brakes a little. Reid snared his first interception of the season two possessions after Claiborne and managed a 10-yard return.
“We’re going to have to tease him about being tackled by a quarterback,” Reid said with a smile. “But I was tackled by a quarterback, too, so I can’t say much.”
To be fair, neither Tigers DB was actually brought down by Tennessee’s Matt Simms. He did manage to make both change direction long enough to be tackled, though.
Still, Claiborne – whose interception was his team-high third of the season – was playfully rueful about not reaching the end zone on the third longest interception return in LSU history and the longest that didn’t finish with a touchdown.
“I know I am,” Claiborne said when asked if he’d have regrets when he watched the return on video. “I’m going to be like ‘I should’ve done that.’ ”
The only returns in LSU history longer than Claiborne’s both went for 100 yards:Greg Jackson against Mississippi State in 1988 and White Graves vs. Kentucky in 1964. Wayne Williams also took a pick back 89 yards against Vanderbilt in 1991.
Claiborne said he came up with the ball after defensive end Sam Montgomery implored the defensive huddle to make a play.
“I’m always glad when they come my way (with the ball),” Claiborne said.
“When it happens you’ve got to seize the moment and be ready for it.”
LSU stayed No. 1 in the Associated Press poll released Sunday and is at No. 2 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches rankings.
The Tigers got 41 first-place votes in the writers’ poll, while Alabama received 11 and Oklahoma got six.
The coaches leaned toward the Sooners with 31 first-place votes to OU, 15 to the Tigers and 12 to the Crimson Tide.
LSU coach Les Miles conceded that his second-quarter challenge of a Tennessee extra point was a little strange. But he said he thought he had seen something very different than the original and upheld calls.
But Miles threw the challenge flag and got his wish. He didn’t get his way, though, as the kick was verified as good.
Television replays caught Miles laughing – apparently at himself – when the extra point remained on the scoreboard.
“I must have not seen it,” Miles said. “I have only seen one other extra point that I could tell from the sidelines that I thought was not good. It was several years ago when I was coaching at another school. And I thought, ‘That’s the exact same look I had.’ So, I reviewed it. I recognized it was a different call, so I challenged it. Let’s see how it looks. I am going to go back again to see how close I was.”
The challenge might’ve cost the Tigers four points right before halftime when Miles didn’t have a challenge available to check if DeAngelo Peterson had broken plane of the end zone on a juggling catch of a 9-yard pass from Jarrett Lee.
With no challenge and the ball inches away from the goal line on fourth down, LSU had to settle for Drew Alleman’s 18-yard field goal, which boosted the lead to 17-7.
While the Tigers’ defense has a well-earned reputation for trash talking, Tennessee certainly tried to keep pace Saturday.
Claiborne said the Vols receivers were yapping right before his pick about being able to throw deep passes all day long against LSU’s coverage of choice – man-to-man, one-on-one.
And even when the Tigers were methodically putting together their three long touchdown drives in the second half, the UT defense was inexplicably trash talking.
“A couple of times, their guys said ‘All you all do is run the ball,’ and we just kind of laughed about it and said ‘Stop it,’ ” tailback Spencer Ware said. “They finally got quiet when they couldn’t stop us.”
Room to grow
Ware said he and Jordan Jefferson have work to do to get comfortable in the backfield together.
Much of the time when Jefferson was in the game against Tennessee, it was either with Michael Ford or Alfred Blue at tailback and J.C. Copeland manning the fullback spot to clear space on QB read options.
“Me and Jordan haven’t been in the backfield together a lot,” Ware said after an 80-yard rushing day, complemented by Jefferson’s 73 yards. “Sooner or later the defense is going to have to pick whether it’s Jordan or me they want to key on, and the other guy is going to have a lot of room to run.”
Whether by design or just happenstance, receiver Rueben Randle provided a bit of comic relief while the game was still intense Saturday.
Right after Claiborne’s interception and still with no score, Ware got a carry for no gain on the final play of the first period.
With a long TV break in between quarters, the LSU offense was on the field waiting for several minutes waiting for the second quarter to start.
Lee had most of the offense huddled up, but Randle was standing alone, split wide left. When the quarter finally began, Lee grabbed a shotgun snap and rifled a quick slant pass to Randle.
“I was just out there waiting for the whistle to blow,” Randle said of more-or-less giving the route away. “We wanted to beat the defensive back inside.”
Apparently Lee knew exactly where he was going on the play well beforehand as well.
“When we have a one-on-one matchup with Rueben outside, we look for him every time,” Lee said. “That’s just a no-brainer.”
The low-key Randle almost ventured into trash-talk territory about the second-half offense as well.
Officially LSU attempted only five passes in the final 30 minutes and Randle caught only one for 11 yards.
Instead of the balance they’ve relied on most of the season, the Tigers coaches dialed up 33 running plays and forced Tennessee to die a slow football death.
“We knew that was gonna happen,” Randle said. “In the first half, the running game didn’t step up, but our offensive line got pumped up at halftime and came out and played hard in the second half.”
The TD catch was Randle’s fifth this season – one each in every game except the Northwestern State and Kentucky contests.
Concerns or anomalies?
Tennessee rushed for 111 yards, a good chunk (34) from Poole on the Vols’ only touchdown drive and 24 in mop-up time after LSU’s lead ballooned to 38-7.
That’s two weeks in a row an opponent has topped 100 yards on the ground and this time it was UT offense that had run backwards for -29 yards the last two weeks.
“I don’t know if we played with the same intensity against the run as we did some other times, but I think they played awfully hard,” Miles said. “There are some adjustments that need to be made.”
Added defensive coordinaotr John Chavis, "We didn't adjust to a couple of things very well and we've got to get that fixed."
Adjustments are certainly needed this week.
Unlike Tennessee, Auburn’s offense thrives running the ball and enters this week averaging 197 yards a game on the ground – third in the SEC.
Tailback Michael Dyer is third in the league as well with 752 yards and his 147 carries are the second most in the SEC. Last season Dyer slashed through the Tigers’ defense for 100 yards, part of AU’s massive 448-yard rushing day in a 24-17 victory.
Jones recorded three tackles, while Baker recorded four.
“Tahj is coming,” Miles said. “He’s played a lot of special teams snaps and defensive snaps. He’s getting better and better.”
T-Bob Hebert was back in the starting lineup, but at center in place of PJ Lonergan, who sat out with a bum ankle.
Playing hurt himself with a knee he twisted against West Virginia, Hebert struggled at times.
“We look forward to getting P.J. back,” Miles said. “He probably could have played in this game.”
"I think this team wants to be a champion."
Miles when asked if his team is in a swoon despite the 31-point win and seven double-digit victories.
Moving the chains
--- LSU’s 31-point margin of victory was the biggest for either team in 32-game history, topping a 28-0 Vols’ triumph in 1940. The Tigers’ previous largest win in the series was 34-9 in 1988.
--- Tennessee’s 7 points were its fewest against LSU since a 3-3 tie in 1964 and the lowest output in a loss to the Tigers since a 7-0 shutout in 1933. The Vols hadn’t scored fewer points in their last 36 games, dating back to a 27-6 loss to South Carolina on Nov. 1, 2008.
--- Beating UT gave LSU a three-game sweep against the SEC East for the second year in a row, which the Tigers had never done before.
--- Saturday’s double-digit victory was LSU’s eighth in a row dating back to the Cotton Bowl romp past Texas A&M. That matches the Tigers’ best stretch of domination, established by the 1936 team in the final eight games of the regular season.
--- In four SEC games, LSU’s defense has permitted 31 points and only three touchdowns – never more than one in a game.
--- Ware produced a touchdown each rushing and receiving, making him the first LSU player to do so in an SEC since Joseph Addai against Alabama on Nov. 13, 2004. Early Doucet turned the trick against Tulane in 2006. Ware is also seventh Tiger to catch a TD pass this season.