Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 1-2 ATS) at No. 12 LSU Tigers (4-0, 2-2 ATS), Week 5 NCAA Football, Saturday October 2nd, 3:30PM Eastern Death Valley Baton Rouge, L.A
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Vols +14.5/Louisiana State University -14.5
Over/Under Total: 42.5
It is safe to say the Tennessee Volunteers football program is a long way from contending to be a national power as were the expectations just a year ago when they entered the 2009 campaign. The Volunteers who dropped two straight back to back at home to Oregon and Florida by a combined 49 points, needed extra minutes in overtime to escape nearly being upset by Alabama-Birmingham last week. The Volunteers did manage to pull out the victory with a late 25 yard touchdown pass from Matt Simms to Denarius Moore to cap the 32-29 victory that avoided the Volunteers from falling 3 straight at home. The Volunteers erupted in celebration after the near upset which was a bit surprising considering they were big favorites to win the game, but that is just a perfect example of how bad this Volunteers team desperately needed a victory.
However, things will get much tougher for the struggling Vols as they head to Death Valley this weekend in their first road trip of the season. The home team LSU Tigers hold the number 12 ranking in the country and they have stood up to some big out of conference challenges already this year. Despite rather easy wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, the Tigers also managed two victories by 6 points a piece over top 25 opponents in North Carolina and just last week to West Virginia. The Tigers have positioned themselves to contend in the SEC West this season and despite some early hiccups on offense, they are a solid football team on both sides of the ball.
Looking into the way both of these opponents match-up, it appears that the Tigers have the advantage on both sides of the field. Ten. has been horrible on defense allowing 362 yards per game and an embarrassing 27 points per game. The Volunteers have simply not been able to stop opponents on the ground or in the air which has put a ton of pressure on their young offense. LSU is a team that loves to run the football behind their big offensive line with running back Stevan Ridley. Ridley has already compiled 434 yards in his first 4 games while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Look for the LSU offense to run the ball straight at the Tennessee defense and win the battle in the trenches.
LSU QB Jordan Jefferson has definitely not held up to the high expectations surrounding him before the season. Jefferson has just completed 54% of his passes for 419 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 4 picks. If the Tigers could get better execution behind center, they will be really tough to beat. WR Reuben Randle has been the only receiver that has really done anything catching 16 passes for 173 yards and 1 score. The LSU faithful have been very patient with their passing offense, but Jefferson has simply not delivered at this point in the season. However, LSU can be very tough to beat even without a solid passing attack. The reason is because they have been successful running the football and the LSU defense has played lights out. The Tigers defense ranks 9th in the nation holding opponents to just 254 yards per game and also ranks 5th in scoring defense holding opponents to a measly 12 points per game.
If Tennessee continues to struggle offensively, the LSU defense could very likely have another dominating performance. Still, one key area that has to be mentioned in regarding the Tigers is their more than special, special teams’ efforts. Cornerback Patrick Peterson has been the most dangerous return man in the country. Peterson has recorded 31.7 yards per kickoff return in just 6 attempts. Peterson has also returned 2 punts for touchdowns and has totaled 443 yards in return yardage alone. Therefore, keep an eye on Peterson as he has consistently been a game changer for LSU in their opening 4 ball games.
For Tennessee to overcome these obstacles, they simply need to play solid defense against the run and then get some help from the offense. The Volunteers defense must key on the run and make Jefferson make plays with his arm to beat him. However, the defensive efforts will not matter if the offense does not move the football. The Volunteers have a very solid running back in Tauren Poole to lead the offense. Poole has posted 318 yards with 5.7 yards per carry on the season. Poole has been the most consistent contributor on offense and they will need QB Matt Simms to find rhythm this Saturday.
Simms has completed just 56.8% passing this season for 836 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 3 picks this year. WR Denarius Moore who caught the game winning touchdown pass last week has been the go to guy on the outside. Moore has 4 touchdowns on the year with 220 yards on 14 passes. However, the problem has been the consistency factor for Simms. Simms has constantly missed opportunities in the passing game this season and it has been in some big situations as well. Once Tennessee starts capitalizing on the passing opportunities, they are going to be a much better team than they have showed thus far this year. The question is how long will that take?
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I really like LSU to cover at home this weekend. Death Valley is a tough place to play and an even tougher place to work out offensive kinks for Tennessee. I expect another big defensive performance for the Tigers and think the cover here. Take LSU -14.5