Here we spotlight the key one on one and unit by unit comparisons and matchups for Saturday's SEC Championship Game.
Head to Head:
Tennessee WR vs. LSU SS
Lucas Taylor vs. Craig Steltz
It should be one of the more interesting matchups of the game. Lucas Taylor is the SEC's leading receiver. Craig Steltz is one of the league's top safeties, the Tigers' leading tackler, and a finalist for the coveted Jim Thorpe Award. Taylor, a Louisiana native from Carencro, has 71 catches on the season for an impressive 975 yards and five touchdowns. The hard-hitting Steltz has 89 total tackles on the season (58 solo, 31 assists) and is 10th in the nation with six interceptions.
Tennessee PK vs. LSU PK
Daniel Lincoln vs. Colt David
You would be hard pressed to find two better kickers pitted against one another in the same game. Tennessee's Daniel Lincoln has gotten all the publicity, however. The Lou Groza semifinalist has connected on 47 of 48 extra-point attempts and has hit 21 of 26 field goals, including a long of 48. LSU's Colt David's résumé may be even more impressive. David is perfect on PATs (57-of-57) and has hit 23 of 29 field goals. David has made his last eight straight field goal attempts dating back to the Alabama game. Five of those eight field goals have come from beyond 40 yards, two of which are tied for his season and career longs of 49 yards.
Player to Watch:
San Diego, Calif.
Mission Bay HS
Considering how Darren McFadden ripped through the LSU front seven, Tennessee's Arian Foster must be looking forward to getting a shot at what was once considered the nation's best defense. Foster has already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark having run for 1,107 yards on 208 carries. He has scored 12 touchdowns on the season and is averaging 92 yards per game. Foster has accumulated five, 100-yard rushing performances this season, most recently a 27-carry, 118-yard performance against Kentucky. Foster, who also has 33 catches for 274 yards on the season, grabbed nine passes for 98 yards in the win over the Wildcats. He is also listed as the Vols' third leading receiver.
LSU rushing offense vs. Tennessee rushing defense
As Jacob Hester closes in on 1,000 yards, the Tiger rushing attack remains one of the best in the nation. The Tigers are averaging 219 yards per game on the ground, 12th nationally, and put up 204 yards in last week's loss to Arkansas. Hester looks to become the Tigers' first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Vincent ran for 1,001 yards in 2003. The Volunteers rank 64th in the country against the run, giving up 158 yards per game on the ground.
LSU passing offense vs. Tennessee passing defense
Matt Flynn did manage to throw three touchdown passes against Arkansas last week. However, the senior signal caller completed just 22 of 47 passes, and his last throw was an interception, which ended the game. However, Flynn is questionable after injuring a shoulder against Arkansas. Whether he plays or its backup Ryan Perrilloux, LSU signal callers should be able to exploit a rather porous Tennessee secondary, which allows 244 yards per game (83rd nationally) and is 67th in pass efficiency defense. If it's Flynn, he should have sweet memories of the Georgia Dome, the site of his proudest achievement, a 40-3 rout of Miami in his first career start. For Perrilloux, it could finally be his coming out party, a la Flynn in that Peach Bowl.
Tennessee rushing offense vs. LSU rushing defense
Remember the days when LSU was the nation's top defensive unit against the run? Well, like Archie and Edith Bunker sang, "Those were the days!" Three weeks ago, LSU was the nation's No. 1 team against the run. After Ole Miss and Arkansas compiled over 600 yards combined against LSU, the Tigers have fallen to 14th, giving up 103 yards per game. Tennessee's Arian Foster has been a perfect complement to the Volunteers' passing attack and will look to fatten up on the Tigers' weary-legged defense.
Tennessee passing offense vs. LSU passing defense
LSU's pass rush has become almost non-existent; thus, the Tiger secondary has given up one big play after another. Erik Ainge looks to surpass the 3,000-yard passing mark against LSU, needing just 98 yards. He has also completed 65 percent of his passes (280-of-436) and has thrown 27 touchdowns offset by just eight interceptions. Ainge's favorite target is the SEC's leading receiver in Lucas Taylor, who needs 25 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the season. LSU's defense remains somewhat stingy against the pass surrendering just 175 yards per game, which remains sixth in the nation.
LSU special teams vs. Tennessee special teams
As mentioned in the top head-to-head matchups on page 21, the game could come down to a battle of the SEC's top kickers. LSU's Colt David and Tennessee's Daniel Lincoln boast impressive seasons so far and have both proved they can connect from anywhere and everywhere at any time. Both teams also have quality punters in LSU's Patrick Fisher (43.8 yards per punt) and Tennessee's Britton Colquitt (42.1). Tennessee does get the nod as the Volunteers feature the SEC's best kickoff return average and rank fifth in punt returns. If Trindon Holliday plays, this could be an even battle.
When asked after the Arkansas loss about motivating his team for the SEC Championship Game, LSU coach Les Miles said it would be tough because his team was so heartbroken. The Tigers are out of the national title hunt and will roll into Atlanta with heavy hearts. The Volunteers backed into the SEC title game and are really just happy to be there. Both teams fought valiantly in multiple-overtime games their last times out, and both should be emotionally drained.
All things considered, LSU is far and away the better team on paper. But this game is not played on paper but on the turf of Atlanta's Georgia Dome. LSU is making its fourth appearance in the last seven years in the SEC's big game, while Tennessee visits Atlanta for the third time since 2001. If Les Miles can get his team in the right frame of mind, LSU might roll into Atlanta with a chip on its shoulder and let loose some frustration on a Tennessee team that has been blown out in all three of its losses this season. The Tigers' ability to play a complete game will be the key, and if they do so, it could get ugly. But in customary LSU fashion, don't count on it. Break out the Maalox!
LSU 43, Tennessee 37