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Tennessee C Cooper Mays on LSU losing the opening kickoff: “I mean that really does suck”

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We’ve all been there. You show up to a highly anticipated event and things immediately go awry. 

Maybe your ex is there with a new significant other. Maybe you’re wearing the exact same Halloween costume as the host of the party. For LSU, it was fumbling the opening kickoff on Saturday when they hosted Tennessee.

“Oh, man,” UT center Cooper Mays said during The Vol Report. “I mean that really does suck, you know what I’m saying? Like going out there and you win the toss and then you elect to receive and you cough up the the kick. 

“I mean, that, as a player that’s on the sidelines, like ready to run out there and that happens. You’re just like it’s like it takes a lot of the wind out of your sails, honestly. Then you punt the ball and Dee (Williams) takes it back 50 yards or whatever and we’re back on the 20.

“And then the defense is like, ‘Dang guys, y’all just gave us two 20-yard fields to work with against Tennessee. You know they score from 90.’ So, it’s definitely not going to be good if you put us on the 25 or 30 or whatever we were on. It’s not good for the mental at all.”

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Mays has been in that situation before. He, like LSU’s players, has been a part of a rebuilding program, twice. Mays’ first rebuild came under former Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt. The second is still ongoing, but pretty far along, under UT coach Josh Heupel. The latter is going a bit better.

When Off The Hook Sports first spoke with Mays about the LSU game, he was asked about the fact that some national prognosticator picked the Vols as a surprise upset team on the road against LSU, which was favored before the season began. Mays had a rather odd, surprised look on his face when he was asked about being an upset special. Mays easily remembers when the topic of “upsetting” LSU was first brought up.

“Definitely remember those conversations and the first time I heard you telling me that because I don’t really pay attention (to the media), but I remember you telling me that it was it was picked as like the upset of the year,” Mays said. “And I was just thinking. I mean, yeah, it would be a good win. Like it’s a really good win, especially down in LSU, but I didn’t think it would be like the upset of the year. I thought that was a little bit overstated for me. 

“Now, the win that we had in the fashion that we had, it is really impressive on the road getting a (win) with that many points and holding them to that many points on offense. That was unreal, especially down in their environment on a road game. So that was pretty crazy. Yeah. But I didn’t think it would be seen as an upset back in the day.”

As it turns out, Mays was right; it wasn’t an upset. LSU was about a three-point underdog. The Vols were the favorite. They were clearly the better team on Saturday. Moreover, the Vols got the breaks when they needed them. Mays was a part of that when he pounced on a fumble by Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker.

“It was pretty catlike,” Mays joked. “It felt fast. I don’t know if it looked that fast, but.”

The faster guys were supposed to be on the other side of the ball. Led by B.J. Ojulari, LSU was supposed to be a force up front on defense. In retrospect, the Tigers were quite tame.

“Ojulari is not a slouch,” Mays said. “He’s a very good defensive end in this league. And number 11 (Ali Gaye), I don’t know if y’all saw him on the field, but he was huge. He was a good 6-(foot)-7, probably 250 (pounds).”

The Vols handled LSU’s defensive front with one man down. Tennessee was forced to play without left tackle Gerald Mincey, who started every game for the Vols this season on Hooker’s all-important blindside. Jeremiah Crawford was tasked with handling LSU’s pass rush in his first career start.

“To go out there, not having a lot of experience this year, he just goes out there and kind of handled it the way he did, not giving up a sack,” Mays said. “That’s big time ball.”

Big-time ball is becoming a thing for Tennessee.

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