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Tennessee football: Vols did a “helluva job” in impressive win over LSU

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Tennessee kicked off early at LSU, scored early, put the game away early, then watched Tiger fans leave early.

The Vols were so dominate, Mike the Tiger fell asleep in the second half.

The football Tigers seemed to sleep walk through the first half, fumbling the opening kickoff, dropping passes, failing on fourth-down gambles and getting burned in the secondary.  

The end result was Tennessee’s one-sided 40-13 victory Saturday at No. 25 LSU in perhaps the most impressive win of the Josh Heupel Era. Tennessee hadn’t beaten LSU this badly since 1953.

You don’t often beat a ranked team by 27 points on the road. And you don’t often beat a team with a storied tradition by four touchdowns in Tiger Stadium.

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“The thing I love is the way we competed and prepared for the game,’’ Heupel said. “They’re not shocked by the way they played and they know there’s a whole lot more out there for us.’’

There may be more out there, but there’s not much Tennessee can improve upon – the performance was that complete.

Tennessee outgained LSU 502 yards to 355, outrushed the Tigers 263 yards to 55, recorded five sacks to none, had no turnovers to two, stopped LSU on all three fourth-down tries and took advantage of four possessions that started in LSU territory to take a commanding 23-7 halftime lead.

“You want to exploit every part of the defense,’’ said UT running back Jabari Small, who rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns. “We try to hit on all phases of the game and we did a pretty good job of that.’’

No kidding.

Tennessee even dominated on special teams, recovering a fumble on the opening kickoff, recording a 58-yard punt return and hitting four field goals.

“Any time a break goes your way, especially at a place like Death Valley, you got to take advantage of those opportunities,’’ Small said, “and keep your foot on their neck.’’

LSU had won four in a row and prided itself on rallying from double-digit deficits. But there would be no such comeback this time.

Tennessee’s offense wouldn’t allow it. Tennessee’s defense wouldn’t allow it. Tennessee’s special teams wouldn’t allow it.

And LSU coach Brian Kelly wouldn’t allow it.

“That was not what we had planned or expected,’’ said Kelly, who made several critical mistakes that hurt LSU’s chances of a comeback.

He eschewed a field-goal attempt when down 10-0 in the first quarter, failed on a fourth-down try at the end of the first half that led to a UT field goal, called two timeouts when UT lined up for a field-goal attempt, and failed on a fourth-and-1 near midfield early in the second quarter.

Tennessee scored on a 45-yard pass on the next play for a 20-0 lead.

Kelly, now 4-12 all-time against top 10 teams, suffered his worst-ever loss at home as an FBS coach.

Before bragging on his team, Heupel bragged about the Vol Nation, which swarmed Tiger Stadium with what appeared to be 10,000 fans sprinkled throughout.

“Our fan base, man, I’ve never been part of a road game road like that where our fans took over,’’ Heupel said.

Heupel said the defense did a “helluva job’’ and the defensive line did a “helluva job’’ and the receivers did a “helluva job.’’

And Tennessee’s team did a helluva job.

The impressive victory sets up what promises to be an epic battle against top-ranked Alabama next Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

And if the Vols like next week like it did at LSU, the tumble against the Tide could  be a terrific tussle.

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