Tennessee’s first game following the firing of Butch Jones started out with promise. The Vols forced LSU into two consecutive three-and-outs to start the game, and with Marquez Callaway back to receive the punt, the orange and white were energized under a change in coach.
However, that energy was quickly zapped when Callaway dropped the punt, resulting in a turnover that turned into a 3-0 LSU lead after a 30-yard Connor Culp field goal. When LSU’s next punt slipped right through the hands of Callaway for a second turnover, a touchdown pushed the Tigers’ lead to a seemingly insurmountable 10-3 and set the tone for a game that went downhill en route to a 30-10 LSU win in Knoxville.
A monsoon swept over Knoxville and Neyland Stadium to spoil Brady Hoke’s first game as interim coach, but it wasn’t the only thing working against Tennessee. The Vols started Saturday with five scholarship offensive linemen, a hobbled starting quarterback and a host of injuries that were already plaguing them.
Then, Ty Chandler got up wobbly after taking a massive hit following the first LSU field goal. He didn’t return.
Jason Robertson and Jonathan Kongbo went down and never returned. Marquez Callaway re-injured his ankle and didn’t come back, either. Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli both left the game with injuries and returned, to the relief of Bob Shoop.
The rain and injuries made it only a matter of time as LSU chipped away at the Vols’ defensive front.
The unit played really well to open the game, containing star running back Derrius Guice and making Danny Etling uncomfortable in the pocket. However, per the norm for 2017, Tennessee’s offense couldn’t stay on the field, forcing the Vols’ defense to contain Matt Canada’s multiple-look, rush-first offense.
The result was a 200-yard performance on the ground for the Tigers. In a weird turn of events, the Vols actually out-gained LSU 287-281. But, 132 of the Vols’ yards came on three Jarrett Guarantano passes — two to Callaway (the second being a touchdown, seen below) and a 60-yard prayer to Jeff George.
Overall, it was about what we expected from a beat-up Tennessee team. The Vols played tough early, but LSU was just too talented and frankly, too healthy. The monsoon didn’t do Tennessee any favors as the makeshift offensive line tried to contain a Tigers’ defensive front loading up on the run.
We did see some creative play calling early, and the team was certainly showing plenty of energy near the start of the game. I’d expect to see a similar atmosphere next week. It’s tough to grade out this game. Tennessee needs some of the 1997 team honored today to suit up soon, or the Vols will be playing more walk-ons than scholarship players.