Wilcox had to feel that pain as he watched LSU march 99 yards in 16 plays — 14 runs, two incompletions — on a drive that consumed 8:44, broke Tennessee's spirit and bumped the Tiger lead to 31-7. LSU then tacked on a 65-yard drive in 10 plays — all runs — to finish off a 38-7 romp at Neyland Stadium.
Vol head man Derek Dooley called the 99-yard drive "a backbreaker" and noted that the Tiger ground game (260 yards on 52 carries) "pounded us. I don't know any other way to say it. Just running through tackles, running around us. We weren't as good on the corners, and we weren't really as good as them in the middle."
LSU improves to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in SEC play. Tennessee drops to 3-3 overall and 0-3 in conference action.
The Vols hung tough for a half, trailing 17-7 at the break. The Tigers dominated the final two quarters, however, finishing with lopsided advantages in first downs (24 to 11), total yards (383 to 239) and possession time (38:19 to 21:41). LSU converted five of six third-down tries in the second half, which helped limit Tennessee to just two possessions in the third and fourth quarters combined.
"It wasn't a really complex game," Dooley said. "In the first half I thought we competed our tails off and had a couple of real bad mistakes that was ultimately the difference in the first half."
Spencer Ware gained 80 yards on 23 carries for LSU but it was backup quarterback Jordan Jefferson who killed the Vols with 73 yards on 14 keepers and scrambles. First-team quarterback Jarrett Lee provided just enough of a passing threat to keep Tennessee off balance, completing 10 of 14 attempts for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Tipping his hat to the NCAA's top-ranked team, Dooley noted that the Tigers "have a lot of guys who have the ability to make impact, game-changing plays."
On a positive note, a Tennessee rushing attack that was limited to minus-9 yards by Florida and minus-20 by Georgia finally showed some spark against a league opponent. Tauren Poole gained 70 yards on 19 carries and the Vols finished with 111 net yards on 29 rushing attempts.
"The run game worked because our guys played better upfront and our running back ran better," Dooley said. "If we continue on that path we're going to be fine in the run game."
Though down 24-7 late in the third quarter, Tennessee still clung to faint upset hopes when Anthony Anderson caught and downed a Matt Darr punt at the Tigers' 1-yard line. Instead of stuffing LSU and getting the ball back inside midfield, however, the Vols allowed the 99-yard drive that sealed their doom. Jefferson had runs of 18 and 14 yards on the march, then capped it with a three-yard option keeper. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Senior quarterback Matt Simms, starting in place of the injured Tyler Bray, averaged 21.3 yards per completion (6 of 20 for 128 yards) but threw two costly interceptions in the first half. Those were the game's only turnovers.
"I played terrible, simple as that: I played terrible," Simms said. "Both interceptions in the first half were just terrible decisions.... I'm just surely disappointed in those two plays because they ended up hurting us."
Tennessee's offense was guilty of stopping itself in the first quarter. The Vols advanced from their 19-yard line to the LSU 46 on their second possession but a false start on fourth-and-two forced Tennessee to punt the ball away. The Vols' next possession was stymied when Zach Rogers dropped a pass on third-and-two.
Tennessee's next possession opened with a 38-yard pass from Simms to Rajion Neal that carried to LSU's 42-yard line. A Simms underthrow was intercepted on the very next play by Tiger cornerback Morris Claiborne, who returned the ball 89 yards to Tennessee's 5-yard line. Lee hit Rueben Randle with a five-yard slant two plays later, and LSU led 7-0.
A short kickoff return and a seven-yard loss on first down forced Tennessee to punt from its own 4-yard line on the Vols' next possession. LSU wound up getting the ball at the Vol 36-yard line. The Tigers scored seven plays later on a 13-yard pass from Lee to Ware, bumping the score to 14-0 with 10:01 left in the half.
Tennessee got back in the game on its third possession of the second quarter, marching 80 yards in 10 plays behind its revitalized running game. Poole carried eight times for 30 yards, scoring the touchdown on a two-yard plunge that narrowed the gap to 14-7 with 2:24 left to intermission.
LSU struck back quickly, however. Randle took a short pass from Lee, juked Vol cornerback Marsalis Teague and raced to Tennessee's 10-yard line. Four plays later Drew Alleman booted an 18-yard field goal to give LSU a 17-7 lead at the break.
Tennessee's upset hopes ended shortly after the third quarter began, as LSU scored touchdowns on all three of its second-half possessions to seal the deal. For Wilcox, it was death by root canal.