LSU-Tennessee: Inside the Matchups

Breaking down the biggest SEC game of the week, position by position.

Head to Head:

Tennessee QB vs. LSU DE

Erik Ainge vs. Chase Pittman

Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer should take a lesson from Nick Saban a year ago and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel last week versus Texas, a two-quarterback system doesn't work. But Fulmer played both Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen against Florida and lost. While Clausen's numbers are better, look for Ainge to start versus LSU this weekend. Against Arizona State, LSU failed to sack the quarterback. Granted the Sun Devils Sam Keller camped out in a three-step drop shotgun formation, the likes of Chase Pittman and the rest of the Tiger defense is going to have to get some pressure on Tennessee quarterbacks.


Tennessee DT vs. LSU C

Jesse Mahelona vs. Rudy Niswanger

Saturday's game could match up the two best defensive line units in the nation. Everyone knows about LSU's vaunted defensive tackle tandem in Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams. The Volunteers' duo of all-American Jesse Mahelona and Parys Haralson are equally as talented and LSU's interior offensive line, anchored by center Rudy Niswanger, will face a more evenly matched battle in the trenches than it did versus an outmanned Arizona State defensive front.


Player to Watch:

Gerald Riggs Jr.

RB, Senior

6-0, 217

Red Bank HS

Chattanooga, Tenn.


Why it is important to stop him?

Gerald Riggs Jr. was on everyone's preseason all-SEC lists and is one of the top tailbacks in the nation. Through two games, he has been one of few bight spots on offense for the Volunteers. In two outings, Riggs has rushed for 196 yards on 40 carries and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 98 yards each game. Against Florida, Riggs ran for 73 yards in the first half, but managed just 13 in the second.


Who has to stop him?

LSU's defensive line is as good as any in the country and will have to shut down any hint of Tennessee's rushing attack to win the game. The Vols are struggling to throw in the ball right now. If the Tigers can neutralize Riggs, the Vols will have the same problems in baton Rouge as they did in Gainesville in terms of the scoring points. One other item of note, Riggs hasn't seen the end zone this season.


LSU rushing offense vs. Tennessee rushing defense:

LSU boasts one of the top defensive lines in all of college football. Tennessee can do the same. The Volunteers defensive front is anchored by all-SEC talents Jesse Mahelona and Parys Haralson. In two games, the Volunteers have held opposing teams to a mere 60 yards rushing per game, which ranks 10th nationally. However, UAB and Florida do not possess the talent at running back, much less on the offensive as that of LSU. The Tigers dominated the ground game against a much smaller defensive front seven at Arizona State. Don't expect LSU to repeat that performance against a good Tennessee defense, but look for this to be one of the equally best head to head matchups on the field. The key will be the Volunteers outside containment. Tennessee can clog up the middle, but can LSU get an advantage on the ground running off the outside hips of tackles Andrew Whitworth and Brian Johnson.

Advantage: Push


LSU passing offense vs. Tennessee passing defense:

Not to put too much pressure on the shoulders of JaMarcus Russell, the game will inevitably come down to his right arm. Tennessee has struggled to score points. Everyone knows they are having problems at quarterback and while Gerald Riggs is good, LSU's rushing defense is among the best in the country. The key to victory for LSU will be can Russell effectively navigate the Volunteer secondary. Russell's number are a bit skewed (16 of 29, 232 yards) against Arizona State due to several key drops. But can the sophomore signal caller play with enough poise and consistency to get LSU into the end zone.

Advantage: LSU


Tennessee rushing offense vs. LSU rushing defense:

As state above, both teams have excellent defensive fronts. Tennessee and LSU are equally talented on the defensive line and aren't going to give up many rushing yards this season. While LSU services its rushing attack by committee (see Joseph Addai, Justin Vincent, Shyrone Carey), the Vols possess one featured back in Gerald Riggs, Jr. Riggs is a preseason all-SEC player and is arguably the best back in the league, but beyond Riggs the Vols are scarcely limited. Through two games, Riggs has accumulated 196 yards on 40 carries. The only other Tennessee running back with double-digit rushing yards is Arian Foster with 34 yards on nine carries. Plus, with all five starters back on a very deep LSU O-line, the Tigers get a slight edge.

Advantage: LSU


Tennessee passing offense vs. LSU passing defense:

The LSU Tigers are ranked 117th in the nation – LAST – in passing defense. Rightfully so. Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller threw for 461 yards and four touchdowns against LSU on Sept. 10 against a Tiger secondary that had more holes than an old ragged sock. But judging from the Sun Devils 772-yards performance versus Northwestern last weekend, it is pretty apparent the Tigers aren't going to be the only recipient of Keller's pass-happy wrath. While the Tigers have issues at the cornerback spots, they are no where close to the problems the Volunteers are having at quarterback. It is safe bet to call this even

Advantage: Push


LSU special teams vs. Tennessee special teams:

This is pretty easy. Against Arizona State, LSU blocked two kicks (punt, field goal) and returned both for touchdowns. Tiger return specialist Skyler Green looks to be back in national championship form and the Tigers even successfully faked a punt from its own end zone on the first offensive possession of the season. Tennessee had three major special teams blunders including a fumbled punt, a blocked field goal and a botched fake punt attempt that led to the decisive points in a Florida victory. A no-brainer here.

Advantage: LSU



After a lengthy wait, Tiger fans will get to finally welcome its team home to Tiger Stadium in LSU's home opener. Hurricane Katrina postponed Les Miles Death Valley debut several weeks, but it is official the Tiger will take the field Saturday in a night game in Tiger Stadium. Tennessee fans are aggravated about the game not being moved to an afternoon kickoff to accommodate visiting players and patrons who cannot find hotel rooms due to Katrina's aftermath. The Volunteers team will actually fly in on Saturday morning and fly out immediately after the game after turning down hotel rooms in an effort to not displace evacuees. While Vol Nation is a bit perturbed by this inconvenience (if you can truly call it an inconvenience considering the last few weeks here), the LSU officials are right on by allowing the Tigers a much deserved night game. While it would be an obvious pick to give LSU the advantage here, Tennessee rarely loses two games in a row and now take on that "angry dog backed in a corner" mentality. Plus, is there a chance LSU could come out too high?

Advantage: Tennessee



Not buying it? Neither are we. LSU will win this game and we'll tell you why. It has been said this Tennessee team is grossly overrated and its poor showings versus UAB and Florida supply plenty of evidence. Even though the Vols are talented and beloved by the national media, the schedule alone (at No. 5 Florida, at No. 3 LSU, at No. 20 Alabama, at No. 18 Notre Dame) is enough to count out Tennessee from the beginning. Plus, toss in major quarterback issues and you have a full-blown, five-alarm fiasco similar to that LSU faced a year ago. For heaven's sake, Phil Fulmer started Rick Clausen… (not a typo) RICK CLAUSEN… at quarterback in The Swamp? Talk about issues. If the Volunteers have any chance of winning in Tiger Stadium "AT NIGHT" (insert sarcasm directed at Tennessee fans), Fulmer had better start and stick with Erik Ainge at quarterback. While Tennessee does have good skill people and a talented defense, it still won't  be enough.

LSU 27, Tennessee 16

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