The Great Equalizer

The LSU Tigers have a higher-scoring offense than the Tennessee Volunteers and a stingier defense than Tennessee. But the Big Orange has a great equalizer that just might turn the tide its way today at Neyland Stadium.

His name is Jonathan Hefney. Without him, the Vols might be riding a two-game losing streak heading into this afternoon's 3:30 kickoff against LSU.

Two weeks ago Hefney returned a first-quarter punt 32 yards and a second-quarter punt 40 yards to set up a field goal that proved decisive in UT's 16-13 Game 7 defeat of Alabama.

One week ago Hefney returned a fourth-quarter punt 65 yards to set up a five-yard game-clinching touchdown drive in UT's 31-24 Game 8 defeat of South Carolina.

Hefney's brilliance the past two games has raised his average from 7.0 yards per return to 17.9, which ranks No. 1 in the SEC and No. 4 nationally.

That's amazing, considering that his return work in Games 1 through 6 was so mediocre that he briefly surrendered the duties to redshirt freshman Austin Rogers. With Rogers sidelined by mononucleosis, Hefney got a second chance, though, and has made the most of it. The big-play dimension he provided on returns proved to be crucial against Alabama and South Carolina.

"It's a great addition," head coach Phillip Fulmer says. "Jon had some opportunities and had not done what we thought he'd do early. But he's turned out to be a real plus for us."

Hefney appeared to be the beneficiary of phenomenal blocking on his 65-yard return against South Carolina. After reviewing the game film, however, Fulmer said the blocking was "not as good as it looked from the sidelines.... Jon did a nice job of finding a place to get down the sidelines."

Clearly, Hefney proved to be a difference-maker in each of the Vols' last two games. Perhaps he can make it three in a row today.

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