BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Josh Heupel is trying to take Tennessee to 5-0 for the first time since 2016. A win over LSU in Baton Rouge would also mean three wins over ranked opponents in 5 games. Last time the Vols beat three ranked opponents in a single season? 2007.
So what’s the key to Josh Heupel’s side getting their second road win against a ranked team this season? Here are four in what we like to call the Saturday Cheat Sheet.
Get out of the field
A season ago, the biggest problem for Tim Banks‘ defense was their inability to get off the field. In 2021, opponents have converted 47.6% of their third downs and 44% of their fourth downs. In the game against Florida, the Gators were 12 of 21 when you combine third and fourth downs. They overcame 3rd and 9+ yards 7 of 9 times.
Tennessee had Florida right where they wanted it for possessions, but they couldn’t close the deal. LSU’s offense has been inconsistent for much of the year.
If the Vols are going to win, they can’t let LSU find a rhythm, which means they have to leave the field in third and long situations.
The most impressive part of LSU this fall was their fight. No one can say he didn’t fight for 60 minutes. They almost rallied for the win in Game 1 against FSU. Down 13-0 to Mississippi State at home in the first half, the Tigers held the Bulldogs to just 3 points in the second half for a 31-16 win. They dropped 17 points Saturday night at Auburn and rallied again, beating the Plainsmen 21-17.
So if anyone thinks this LSU team is just going to turn around or not show up for a kick at 11 a.m. local time, then they’re wrong, which is why Tennessee needs to finish.
The Vols nearly lost a 17-point lead to Florida as the Vols struggled to manage the clock and couldn’t eliminate big plays in the streak. Special teams also allowed a side kick.
Tennessee needs to finish this game with their efforts and focus much better than they did a week ago against Florida.
Corresponds to the physicality of LSU
LSU’s Brian Kelly said his team is in better shape than any of its opponents this year. His team also fought for 60 minutes. Defensively, the Tigers are aggressive on all three levels and will strike. Up front on the offensive line, they started a different combination every game, but they’ve always been a team that plays a physical brand of football.
Tennessee did a good job of matching Pittsburgh’s physique in Week 2. Pitt hasn’t shown well the past few weeks, but this game was physical. Florida’s game was physical and Tennessee held on against the run defensively and ran for over 200 yards.
I think Saturday’s brunch at Tiger Stadium will be the most physical game yet for the Vols, who are obviously coming off an open date and should be in better health.
Tennessee seems to be taking a break from the weather. The maximum is only supposed to be 84 and it won’t be until the end of the game. So it doesn’t hurt.
Speed things up
Tennessee must win the first down on offense. They need to get things going to start a series of downs, especially to start a possession so they pick up their pace.
LSU hasn’t played the tempo this season. FSU had 71 offensive plays in week one, Auburn had 70 last week. Those are the two high counts for the Tiger defense.
The Tennessee offense has not played a game this year where they have had fewer than 70 snaps.
How is LSU in shape and how well can they handle a fast-paced offense they haven’t seen this year?
Hendon Hooker and the Vols must test them. To do that, Tennessee needs to win the first down and get the player first, first down so they can pick up the pace.