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Tennessee-LSU Preview: Keys to the game and why the Vols can beat the Tigers in Baton Rouge

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LSU has won eight consecutive home games when it has had a morning kickoff.

That, some suggest, dispels the myth that the Tigers aren’t as good when they play early at Tiger Stadium as opposed to nighttime.

But let’s take a closer look.

Each of those eight wins were over unranked teams. Three were against Mississippi State teams that had 3-win seasons. Utah State and Appalachian State were among those victims.

Tennessee is a different animal. The Vols are ranked No. 8 in the country, have two wins over ranked opponents, lead the SEC in scoring and total offense and have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.

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Tennessee playing LSU with an 11 a.m. local kickoff is a definite advantage for the Vols.

But just how much?

That remains to be seen.

LSU has sold out the game, but don’t be surprised if fewer than 80,000 are on hand for the opening kickoff. After all, it takes time to prepare for a tailgate that includes boudin, gumbo, sausage, shrimp and a Cochon de Lait. And Tiger fans won’t miss a tasty tailgate for a kickoff.

Tiger Stadium at night is a nightmare for opponents.

Tiger Stadium at before noon isn’t a morgue, but the noise won’t measure on the Richter scale.

Tennessee’s offense shouldn’t have to worry about going on a silent count at 11 am. It shouldn’t have to worry about beer bottles being thrown at the bus pregame. And it shouldn’t have to worry about Mike the Tiger roaring along the sideline. He’s a late riser.

I’m not sure if an opponent playing LSU with a morning kickoff is worth a touchdown, but it’s close.

This is not to suggest Tennessee can sleepwalk its way to victory.

LSU is talented and dangerous. Quarterback Jayden Daniels is a dual-threat quarterback who puts pressure on the defense. LSU has several good running backs that are used on a rotational basis. It has one of the SEC’s top wide receivers in Kayshon Boutte, although he hasn’t been engaged this season.

Considering how porous Tennessee’s secondary was against Florida, you can expect the Tigers to put some points on the board.

Considering Tennessee leads the SEC in points and total offense, you can expect the Vols to put some points on the board.

It might take 40 points to win what promises to be a shootout.

Here are some keys for Tennessee:

*Hooker has to be as precise against LSU as he was against Florida. He threw for 349 yards and ran for 112 more. He accounted for three touchdowns. He must play at a high level for UT to win.

*Tennessee must mount a run game. The Vols are averaging 193.5 rush yards per game. But they had just 91 against Pitt and almost half of their 227 total against Florida came from the quarterback. LSU is allowing less than 110 rush yards per game and held Mississippi State to 75 and Auburn to 101.

*The Vols must get off the field on third and fourth down. Florida was 7 of 15 on third downs and 5 of 6 in fourth downs. That kept the Gators’ offense on the field, UT’s offense off the field and limited the Vols to only nine possessions.

*Contain Daniels. Daniels is LSU’s leading rusher. He might be more dangerous with his legs than his arm. And, like Hooker, he hasn’t thrown an interception.

*Exploit LSU’s secondary. The Tigers have five transfers on the back end and start a cornerback transfer from McNeese State and another from Louisiana Lafayette. The Tigers gave up 337 pass yards to an Auburn quarterback (Robby Ashford) who is not known as a premier passer.

*Keep your foot on the pedal if you get a lead. LSU rallied from a 13-0 deficit to beat Mississippi State and from 17-0 to beat Auburn – tying for the school’s second-largest road comeback win since 1922. LSU’s defense hasn’t allowed a point in 14 consecutive second-half possessions. UT’s offense can’t go AWOL in the second half.

*Break even in the turnover battle. LSU leads the SEC in turnover margin (plus 5) and in takeaways (12). A strip-sack-fumble-return touchdown cut Auburn’s lead to 17-7 and provided the momentum for LSU’s comeback. A late interception on a trick play was also crucial. UT is plus 3 in turnover margin.  

*First-down production. When UT does well on first down, the offense sizzles. But when UT gets behind the chains, the offense has a tendency to stall. And LSU’s pass rush is too good for the Vols to get into third-and-long situations.

Prediction: Tennessee 41, LSU 38

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