DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY (9.0)
SECONDARY (90) This was a bit of a mixed bag given the damage LSU did through the air against Tennessee with 247 yards and three TDs. But much of that success was simply due to talent and execution by a great group of wide receivers and a big, strong, resourceful signal caller, who bought time to throw when he wasn't reeling off huge runs. Still UT's DBs did much to keep the Vols in contention, including picking off three passes and forcing a fumble. Demetrice Morley (eight solo tackles) grabbed a pass that slipped from LaMarcus Russell's hand and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second half. Jonathan Hefney led the Vols with a game high 15 tackles (11 solo) and added an interception. Jonathan Wade (four tackles) forced a fourth-quarter fumble that set up UT's go-ahead touchdown. Antwan Stewart (six solo stops) also had an interception. Collectively, the trio of Morley, Hefney and Stewart returned their picks 73 yards. If the front seven had managed to get more pressure on Russell, or better stop the run the secondary's job would have been much easier. As it was it stands as the most consistent unit UT has on defense.
LINEBACKERS (82) With Marvin Mitchell (four solo stops) missing in the middle (shoulder injury) for most of the second half, the Vols had a huge hole to fill and it showed as the Tigers rolled up 231 yards in 45 carries for an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. LSU also repeatedly sprung wide receivers on a variety of screens that the linebackers either didn't recognize quickly enough or were slow to react to. On more than one play it looked like UT's second level all but disappeared. However Jerod Mayo continued his standout sophomore season by posting 12 tackles (seven solo). Ellix Wilson saw significant playing time in Mitchell's absence and recorded five tackles. Karl Ryan only had two stops, but both were behind the line of scrimmage, and he also recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter to thwart an LSU drive in UT territory. Rico McCoy had two tackles off the bench. LSU's balance forced UT's linebackers to play more conservatively which was underscored by the lack of sacks and big plays. Mitchell's experience, instincts and aggressiveness at MLB were greatly missed down the stretch.
DEFENSIVE LINE (77) Just as any good defensive performance begins in the trenches and radiates out so does any bad performance by the defense. LSU dictated the pace of this game and made effective use of misdirection to blunt the Vols' parallel-and-pursue scheme. UT was unable to disrupt the Tigers' offense with penetration at the point of attack or maintain gap control up front. Turk McBride (seven tackles) is the only real force Tennessee has at tackle. In years past UT would have three or four interior linemen that could regularly occupy two blockers and occasionally beat the double team. The loss of Justin Harrell and the early departure of Tony McDaniels left the ranks thin and prevents the defense from being dominate, especially against the run. Demonte Bolden (four tackles) is showing signs of living up to the reputation he earned in high school as a defensive difference maker. UT's other three tackles — Walter Fisher, Jonathan Mapu and Matt McGlothlin — had one tackle each. The Vols five tackles failed to record any sacks or hurries. Considering LSU ran 81 plays (45 running and 36 passing) that is not good overall production. Defensive end Xavier Mitchell had six tackles (five solo) and recorded UT's only sack. The fall off is significant from there as Antonio Reynolds and Robert Ayers had a solo and two assists each, while Wes Brown had an assist. The ends lost leverage too often and failed several times to close down on runs off tackle. Vols need a tempo setter on the edge in the mode of a Parys Haralson or Will Overstreet.
OVERALL (83) This is like the classic chicken-egg paradox. Yes the offense left defense on the field too long, but the defense could have done a better job on third and fourth downs, as LSU converted 11 of 17 such attempts, including 3 of 3 on fourth downs. There were also mitigating circumstances that made for the woeful inequity in time of possession. (LSU 41:06 to UT's 18:54. When UT's offense scored it scored quickly. The Vols consumed only 3:57 in scoring 17 points while the defense added another TD on Morley's interception return. By comparison, LSU's touchdown drives burned 20:45 off the clock including 7:14 of the last 7:23 in the game, or just under half of the fourth period. By taking away the short pass, which has been the staple of the Vols' offense, LSU forced Tennessee to either run or throw deep. The Vols had some success throwing deep but couldn't balance it with the run enough to maintain ball control. The irony is that LSU beat Tennessee the way Tennessee beat the SEC for the last couple of decades. Degree of difficulty, which includes LSU's open week to prepare, gave these grades considerable buoyancy.
SPECIAL TEAMS (69) Tennessee covered kicks well, but didn't generate much on the return. James Wilhoit hit a 24-yard field goal just before half to give the Vols their first lead 10-7. However he missed a 46-yard field goal in the second half which would have enhanced UT's chances. That distance is certainly problematical but one a fifth year senior with Wilhoit's ability is capable of making. He did a good job on kickoffs, averaging 63.8 yards per attempt. Britton Colquitt's 47.8 average for five punts is solid, but his longest was a 59-yarder that carried through the end zone for a touch back. In the second half when he had plenty of room to work with, Colquitt hit a punt that just carried 39 yards to LSU's 33. An interference call tacked on another 15 yards giving LSU the ball near midfield. Eight plays later the Tigers took a 21-17 lead. The most grievous error the Vols special teams made was allowing LSU to convert a first down on a faked punt on the first series in the fourth quarter. UT dodged the bullet on an interception by Antwan Stewart but lost time and field position.