Fearless Prediction: Tennessee vs. LSU
After a well-deserved week off, the Fearless Prediction is back and better than ever. Like the Tennessee Volunteers, this weekend we’ll try to stay on the right side of the win column and improve to 5-0.
On Saturday afternoon, it’s Tennessee vs. LSU for the 1st time since the infamous 13-men-on-the-field game in 2010. Fortunately for the Vols, Derek Dooley is no longer on the UT sidelines.
Josh Heupel has led a remarkable, lightning-fast turnaround on Rocky Top, with the Vols now ranked 8th in the nation. They’ve proven that they can win important games on the road (see Kentucky, 2021, and Pittsburgh, 2022). Winning in Death Valley? That’s a different animal.
It looks like the football gods smiled on the Big Orange with an 11 a.m. local time kickoff, giving the Baton Rouge faithful less time to … pregame. But this will probably be the most raucous crowd the Vols have played against in Heupel’s tenure.
While the Vols were probably spending last weekend resting in a hyperbaric chamber, LSU played one of its biggest rivalry games, escaping Auburn with a 21-17 win. You can give credit for the victory to its defense, which collected 4 turnovers and scored a TD of its own on a fumble recovery return.
Tennessee’s offense is rolling, averaging 48.5 points per game. LSU’s defense is solid, allowing 14.8 points per game. (Announcer’s voice) Something has to give!
Hendon Hooker has become a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, and he can pad his resume in front of another national television audience this Saturday. The status of his top receiver, Cedric Tillman, is still unknown, but it will have been 3 weeks since he was injured in the Akron game. If Tillman is a go, the Vols’ offense gets a huge boost.
Even if he can’t play, Tennessee’s wide receiving corps has proven to be more than effective. Jalin Hyatt and Bru McCoy combined for 10 catches and 160 yards in the Florida win. The Vols’ run game is also stout, with Hooker, Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright leading the way with 615 combined yards on the ground through 4 games.
LSU’s offense is not as intimidating. Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels played most of the game against Auburn, completing 8 of 20 passes for only 80 yards. He did rush for 59 yards and 1 score. Daniels banged knees with an Auburn defender late in the game, but head coach Brian Kelly says that he’ll be fine to face the Vols.
Daniels also leads the Tigers in rushing yards with 321. In his 1st career start, running back Josh Williams ran for 68 yards against Auburn. Malik Nabers is the Tigers’ top pass-catching option, reeling in 22 catches this season.
Tennessee’s defense might not look much better statistically (currently ranked 95th nationally in total defense), but it is passing the eye test. At crucial times in the Pittsburgh and Florida victories, the Vols forced turnovers and made key stops. Defensive back Kamal Hadden seems to have made a jump this season, currently with 2 INTs, 2 pass breakups, 2 tackles for loss and 1 forced fumble.
The Tigers’ defense is ranked 19th nationally, allowing less than 300 yards per game. Tennessee’s offense hasn’t been slowed down very much this season, but the Auburn game proved that LSU can and will force turnovers when the opportunity is there. For the Vols to win, they’ll have to take care of the ball. While Hooker has yet to throw an interception, Tennessee has lost the football 5 times on fumbles.
LSU has responded well from that Week 1 debacle against Florida State, winning 4 in a row. But it hasn’t played an opponent close to Tennessee’s caliber in that stretch.
The Vols get top-ranked Alabama next weekend in Knoxville in what has the potential to be another truly historic game at Neyland Stadium. Fans might be looking ahead, but not Tennessee.
Fearless Prediction time …
Tennessee 34, LSU 27