Inside LSU vs. Tennessee
Sunday, September 25, 2005
By Jim Kleinpeter
TENNESSEE (2-1, 0-1) vs. LSU (1-0, 0-0)
Kickoff: 6:45 p.m. at Tiger Stadium.
Coaches: LSU’s Les Miles (29-21, 1-0, sixth season, first at LSU); Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer (124-32, 15th year, all at Tennessee).
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WLMG 101.9-FM
KEEP AN EYE ON:
LSU CORNERBACKS: Torched two weeks ago by Arizona State’s Sam Keller, Chevis Jackson and Ronnie Prude might be viewed as inviting targets for Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge. Sun Devil receivers appeared to have plenty of room to make catches as LSU allowed 461 passing yards. Miles hinted the Tigers might play more man-to-man defense than two weeks ago to keep a few more players in the box to combat the Vols’ hard-running Gerald Riggs. Tennessee likes to attack man coverage by getting vertical with the passing game. Any LSU cornerback is probably in for a busy night.
TENNESSEE QUARTERBACK ERIK AINGE: The Vols coaching staff may have given Ainge the boost of confidence he needs by naming him the starter early in the week, ahead of former LSU quarterback Rick Clausen. Ainge had one good drive against Florida last week but was unable to hit enough passes to give Tennessee any offensive momentum. Expect a rededicated Tennessee offensive attack, which may have been hampered by WR Robert Meachem’s bad ankle last week. Ainge may also try to exploit the height advantage of his receivers Meachem (6-3) Chris Hannon (6-4) and C.J. Fayton (6-2) over Prude and Jackson, who are both 6 feet.
GAMEPLAN: Unlike Arizona State, Tennessee is a run-first kind of team. LSU will first have to stop Riggs, who rushed for 196 yards on 40 carries and had 1,107 last year. Any problems there and it will be a long night for the Tigers. “He’s big, strong and physical,” said LSU coach Les Miles. “You have to tackle him with your whole body. He’s going to run through some arm tackles.”
On the other hand, Tennessee longest play from scrimmage this season is 19 yards. Against the pass, LSU will have to continue to mix it up and disguise its defense and get the right personnel matchups. The LSU offensive line must keep the Vols front line out of the backfield and give the running backs room to run and JaMarcus Russell time to pass. Russell looked good last week but is certain to get more heat. He can’t afford to have his receivers drop six passes as they did last week. The wild card in the gameplan is the weather. Rain coming off Hurricane Rita could play a big part in play-calling and decision making.
KEY MATCHUP: TENNESSEE DEFENSIVE LINE VS. LSU OFFENSIVE LINE: Jesse Mahelona and his line mates blew right through Florida’s offensive line last week for five sacks and disrupted Urban Meyer’s highly touted spread option attack. The LSU offensive line gave a good account of itself in its opener as the LSU offense showed a good run-pass yardage balance, but Arizona State did sack Russell four times. Brett Helms and Will Arnold will continue to alternate at the left guard spot and will have their hands full, as will center Rudy Niswanger and right guard Nate Livings. Expect some draw plays, screen passes and bubble screens to take the charge out of the Vols.
BY THE NUMBERS: LSU has won two of the last three meetings with SEC East powers Tennessee, Florida and Georgia. … Tennessee has won seven of 12 games vs. LSU in Baton Rouge. … Vols coach Phillip Fulmer is the winningest active coach with at least 10 years in Division I-A (132-24, .795). … LSU carries a 10-game home wining streak dating back to a 19-7 loss to Florida in 2003. … LSU has a streak of 38 games with at least one sack.
ODDS AND ENDS: The game will mark the first since the renovation of the upper deck, which includes a 3,200-seat club section and a new press box. The new capacity is 92,400. … After allowing 461 yards passing to Arizona state, LSU is ranked last among the 117 Division I-A schools in pass defense…. LSU’s Chris Jackson is ranked first in the nation in punting, averaging 55 yards, and teammate Patrick Fisher is No. 2, averaging 49 yards. Each has punted twice. … It will be LSU’s first meeting with a top 10 team at Tiger Stadium since 2003 when No. 10 LSU beat No. 7 Georgia, 17-10. … It’s the latest home opener for LSU since the 1977 Tigers beat Rice, 77-0 on Sept. 24. … This is the first time since 1999 the SEC has had four teams ranked in the AP top 10.
NOTE: Tennessee’s visit marks the return of quarterback Rick Clausen, though he will play a backup role to Erik Ainge after starting against Florida last week. Clausen, a former Tiger, owns a ring from LSU’s 2001 SEC Championship Game victory against the Vols, then quarterbacked by his brother Casey. Rick was redshirted that year but came back to start the Ole Miss game in 2002 for LSU before transferring to Tennessee. Clausen has added 30-40 pounds since his playing days and was the Vols starting quarterback the last four games of last year, including a Cotton Bowl victory against Texas A&M in which he was named MVP. Few LSU players have kept in touch with Clausen, who roomed with defensive tackle Kyle Williams for a time. “I haven’t spoken to him in a couple of year,” said Williams. “I think David Jones might speak to him a little bit, but I don’t think any body does. When he turned evil, he went all the way I guess.”
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH: “The idea our team gets to play at home, I don’t think it can ever be anticlimactic (because of the hurricane). We’re excited we can look forward to the new stadium, being at home in front of our friends and family. I can’t imagine that will ever be just a game.” LSU coach Les Miles.