|Vols eager to add to LSU’s recent misery |
| Dan was the Man |
In a regular season-ending track meet held at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., a sophomore defensive tackle from Memphis became a superhero with one giant leap and a sturdy facemask. Overtime football games are always lost on turnovers, but not this one. Tennessee survived the turnover dagger with only a flesh wound when Dan Williams rose to the occasion, both literally and figuratively, by blocking the winning 35-yard field goal attempt off the foot of Knoxville Central’s Lones Seiber with the above mentioned facemask.
Yes, there were other heroes on this day — senior quarterback Erik Ainge threw for almost 400 yards and junior tailback Arian Foster accumulated 216 all purpose yards running and catching as if he were back on the sandlots of San Diego, Calif. But it was Williams’ faithful kick block that allowed Tennessee to survive another miserable second half defensive performance and ooze its way into the Southeastern Conference title game on Saturday against reeling LSU.
This one will tell the tale
In order to get to the title contest this weekend, Tennessee has pinballed its way through November, eking out victories over teams that have a composite record of 33-27. Led by Ainge, Foster, a sturdy offensive line and the whirling dervish of a middle linebacker named Jerod Mayo, the Big Orange survived near devastation against South Carolina (6-6), Vanderbilt (5-7) and Kentucky (7-5). All three of these nail-biters saw Lady Luck cast her approving gaze towards the guys in orange and white.
But now the true test for this coaching staff and football team comes in the form of the Tigers of LSU. Knocked out of the national title hunt on the same day that the Volunteers secured a berth opposite them in Atlanta, LSU is a legitimate top 10 football team. They are 10-2 and are still seething about the loss to Arkansas that cost them a chance to play West Virginia for the national championship in January. It’s one thing to squeeze past South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but now, in order to claim the SEC crown that has eluded Tennessee for a decade, the Vols must strike down a very talented and tough football team. But if you are thinking about betting against UT in this one, my advice to you is don’t do it!
• Tennessee receivers vs. LSU secondary — Tiger deep defenders Craig Steltz and Chavis Jackson are two of the top pass pickpockets in the SEC this season. Both are also hard-hitting, solid strikers who relish the opportunity to crash into opposing pass catchers. It will be very physical and only the strong will survive in this battle. Steltz can be beaten deep if the Vols get the right guy in the slot in a man-to-man situation against the Tiger safety.
Tennessee tight ends Chris Brown, the Cottam brothers and even Luke Stocker might be the go-to guys in this showdown.
• Vol center and guards vs. Glen Dorsey — In order to run the ball effectively against LSU, Dorsey, who probably by-passed a chance to be a first round NFL draft choice by returning for his senior year, must be neutralized. It will take teamwork from the interior of the Tennessee offensive line in order to control this one-man wrecking crew. Of course, Vol guard Jacques McClendon probably wants a shot at Dorsey chin strap to chin strap.
• LSU offensive tackles vs. Vol defensive ends — Surprisingly, the Tigers have allowed over 30 sacks this season. It will be up to Robert Ayers, Wes Brown and Antonio Reynolds to try and make life miserable for Tiger quarterback Matt Flynn on Saturday. By the way, just a footnote with references back to the 2001 championship game, Flynn is very adept at running the quarterback draw play.
Point of attack — On paper, this game looks like a real mismatch. LSU is second in the league in both rushing offense and scoring. The Tennessee defense is at or near the bottom of the conference in every major statistical category. But despite these facts, Mayo and the other Vol defenders have had a knack as of late for making a mood changing play just in the nick of time. Throw the numbers out in this one. Tennessee does not have to beat the Tigers six games in a row, just one time on Saturday will do just fine.
Secret weapon — He may not be such a secret anymore, but true freshman kick returner/defensive back Dennis Rogan can alter momentum and field position in about seven or eight dazzling seconds. If LSU is smart, they will kick short or away from Rogan in this game.
Marquee showdown — Mayo and the Tigers’ outstanding linebacker Ali Highsmith are two of the very best in all of college football. The guy who has the showcase game here will go a long way toward crowning his team champions of the SEC in 2007.
Pressure point — It seems apparent that the University of Tennessee’s administration, the big boosters and most fans are content if Fulmer only makes it to the championship game. Thus, the pressure in this one falls on Les Miles of LSU. Not only has he just blown a shot at a national championship, but if he loses to upstart Tennessee, then his dream job at his alma mater of Michigan might just be offered to another coach.
Key stats — LSU is the most penalized team in the conference this season, but the big statistic to watch in this one will be third down conversions. In order for Tennessee to win this game, its offense must stay on the field on third downs and its defense must get the heck off the gridiron with some key third down stops. Return yardage and turnovers will, as usual, play an important role in the outcome.