Tennessee Vols At LSU Tigers: Game Preview And Statistical Comparison

A weekly look at our upcoming opponent's recent history, with animated drive charts, links to SB Nation game pages, and statistical comparisons.

CAVEATS: You know the drill. Also, this: all of the following information is gleaned exclusively from the NCAA statistics and does not account for things like injuries, shared playing time, and other stuff difficult to see from a bird's eye view. As always, this is a long post, so I've put the conclusions and predictions before and after the meat. You're not seeing double.

Sketchy Conclusions

  • LSU appears to be winning because of their special teams and defense, both of which give the offense, which is struggling, short fields.
  • On offense, the Tigers are fine rushing the ball, but they haven't been able to pass very well at all so far this season.
  • Their defense is strong across the board. Rushing yards against them will be at a premium. If they're vulnerable anywhere, it's in the passing game, but they're fairly solid there as well, and I fear Matt Simms will be eaten alive before he can throw the ball anyway.
  • Patrick Peterson is The Plague, okay? Avoid him at all costs. He's an elite talent returning punts and kickoffs, having already returned two punts for TDs this season. He hasn't yet returned a kickoff for a TD, though, so if Tennessee can focus all of its effort on bottling him up on kickoffs and teaching Chad Cunningham to punt the ball out of bounds or straight up in the air so all 11 cover guys can form a circle around him while he makes a fair catch, it can take away one of LSU's greatest advantages and deny the offense some of the privilege of working with short fields.

Predictions

  • LSU 31, Tennessee 13.

Schedule and Animated Drive Charts

 

LSU Logo
@ North Carolina Tar Heels 9/4/10 win 30 - 24 coverage
@ Vanderbilt Commodores 9/11/10 win 27 - 3 coverage
Mississippi St. Bulldogs 9/18/10 win 29 - 7 coverage
West Virginia Mountaineers 9/25/10 win 20 - 14 coverage

 

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

Forget the baby blue on this one for a minute and just look at the purple. Specifically, look at the starting field position. Five drives began at midfield or better. Six more started at the 30 or better. If the Tigers hadn't had three fumbles and an interception, they would have run away with this. Yeah, the Tar Heels had their own problems with fumbles, and they did have some nice long drives, but that field position!

 

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

Okay, this is a bit more traditional. Only two drives that started across midfield and another that was within a yard of it, and one of those was due to a fumble. The reason? The Commodores actually kept Patrick Peterson in check on punt returns. LSU did have two long drives, too, so they can do it. And that defense looks nasty; Vanderbilt punted on all but two drives, one on which they actually got close enough to hit a field goal and another they gave away with the fumble.

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

Yikesamighty, there it is again. LSU's worst starting field position was the 30, and they started eight of their nine drives at the 40 or better, including three within 50 yards of their end zone. Yeah, much of this is because of Mississippi State's five interceptions, but most QBs don't just hand those things to defenders, so credit the defense and special teams for helping out that offense. Oh, Tennessee kick and punt return game, where art thou?

FULL SCREEN VERSION

 

A bit better on the field position thing, but still frightening. Four drives that began on the easy side of the field, half of them turnover-created, and another "drive" that started in the end zone with six points. The Tigers had one long drive that resulted in a field goal, but where the offense wasn't born with a silver gumbo ladle in its mouth, they struggled to score.

National Unit Rankings

Now on to the national rankings.

 

OFFENSIVE RANKINGS
Category National
Rank
Actual National
Leader
Actual Conf
Rank
SEC Leader Actual
Rushing Offense 35 189.75 Air Force 394.00 5 Auburn 278.00
Passing Offense 115 110.00 Hawaii 405.50 12 Arkansas 365.00
Total Offense 102 299.75 Oklahoma St. 596.00 11 Alabama 511.75
Scoring Offense 65 26.50 Oregon 57.75 9 Alabama 39.50
Passing Efficiency 113 99.50 Oklahoma St. 187.05 12 Auburn 185.48
Sacks Allowed T-34 1.25 Penn St. .25 4 Florida .50

 

Offensive observations. LSU can rush the ball well, but they're not exactly elite. Or maybe it's because they only have half the opportunities as everyone else. Whatever the case, they're ranked 35th on the ground. Not bad, not scary good. With all of the advantages special teams and the defense has given the team, 65th in scoring offense is pretty pitiful, but it's better than their passing game, which is atrocious.

DEFENSIVE RANKINGS
Category National
Rank
Actual National
Leader
Actual Conf
Rank
SEC Leader Actual
Rushing Defense 8 74.75 Kent St. 61.33 1 LSU 74.75
Pass Efficiency Defense 39 114.38 Nebraska 74.65 5 Alabama 92.35
Total Defense 9 254.00 Iowa 227.50 1 LSU 254.00
Scoring Defense 5 12.00 Alabama 9.75 2 Alabama 9.75
Pass Defense 38 179.25 Navy 99.33 4 Kentucky 154.75
Sacks T-22 2.75 Florida St. 4.75 4 Arkansas 3.75
Tackles For Loss T-13 8.00 Miami (FL) 11.33 2 Auburn 8.25

 

Defensive observations. Whatever anyone says about John Chavis on third down, the man knows how to put terrific defenses on the field. Where the best national ranking for the offense was 35th, the worst for the defense is 39th, and that's in that pass and passing efficiency defense mentioned in the first sentence. Everything else? Top 25, including three categories -- rush, total, and scoring defense -- in the top 10.

SPECIAL TEAMS AND TURNOVERS RANKINGS
Category National
Rank
Actual National
Leader
Actual Conf
Rank
SEC Leader Actual
Net Punting 53 37.17 Pittsburgh 45.20 6 Florida 41.45
Punt Returns 2 23.91 Maryland 25.15 1 LSU 23.91
Kickoff Returns 17 26.17 Arizona 33.50 3 Florida 30.27
Turnover Margin 33 .50 Oregon 2.75 5 Florida 2.00

 

Special teams and turnovers observations. Here's where having three coaching staffs in three years is going to hurt us. Everybody seems to have to learn their most painful lessons personally instead of vicariously. It took several doses of OUCH for Phillip Fulmer to realize there were times it was better to punt the ball out of bounds. Lane Kiffin had to have his own reality check, and I'm betting that Derek Dooley will need to get smacked upside the head as well before he decides not to trust our punt coverage against an elite punt return team. All of that's to say this: LSU is ranked 2nd in the nation in punt returns. They're also 17th in the nation in kick returns, and you can't kick those out of bounds. Oh, and they force a lot of turnovers, too, so woo for the third phase for which we've been searching for a decade.

Stastical Comparison

Here's how the teams looked when the RTT BlogPoll Computery Thing chewed them up and spit them out.

Rank Team WL SOS PED RD 3DO TD PEO EXP OPPG TO 3DD BlogPoll
11 LSU Logo 1 12 39 8 59 9 113 77 5 102 18 93.6
75 Tennessee Logo 54 41 37 61 119 69 77 45 81 72 46 -28.3

 

So they're undefeated against a very tough schedule. Their defense is strong, including on third down, much to my surprise. The only categories in which Tennessee ranks higher are pass efficiency defense, which is really just a wash, pass efficiency offense, total offense, and the totally inexplicable -- experience. Experience? Really?

Players to watch for

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
Rushing Stevan Ridley 21 108.50
Russell Shepard 35.00
Passing Efficiency (Min. 15 Att./Game) Jordan Jefferson 97.21
Total Offense Jordan Jefferson 127.00
Stevan Ridley 108.50
Receptions Per Game Rueben Randle 3.50
Terrence Toliver 2.75
Receiving Yards Per Game Rueben Randle 43.25
Interceptions Morris Claiborne T-27 .50
Patrick Peterson T-27 .50
Tyrann Mathieu .25
Drake Nevis .25
Punting (Min. 3.6 Punts/Game) Derek Helton 59 40.25
Punt Returns (Min. 1.2 Ret./Game) Patrick Peterson 2 28.11
Kickoff Returns (Min. 1.2 Ret./Game) Patrick Peterson 15 31.67
Field Goals Josh Jasper T-5 2.25
Scoring Josh Jasper T-25 9.50
Russell Shepard 4.50
Stevan Ridley 4.50
All-Purpose Runners Patrick Peterson T-63 122.25
Stevan Ridley 73 117.25
Sacks Drake Nevis T-37 .88
Tyrann Mathieu T-92 .50
Sam Montgomery T-92 .50
Tackles Kelvin Sheppard T-39 9.50
Ryan Baker T-86 8.00
Tackles For Loss Ryan Baker T-34 1.50
Drake Nevis T-34 1.50
Sam Montgomery T-34 1.50
Kelvin Sheppard .88


Observations

Offense.

QBs. With a pass efficiency rating of 97.21, Jordan Jefferson does not rank nationally at all. He's getting more and more boos as the season progresses, and I wouldn't be surprised to see backup Jarrett Lee if Jefferson does struggle against Tennessee. Lee played for one series last week, but failed to get a first down, and Jefferson came back in for the final series to run out the clock.

WRs. Ditto wide receivers Rueben Randle and Terrence Toliver, but that could be perhaps maybe sorta because Jefferson can't get them the ball.

RBs. Stevan Ridley is actually the real deal, ranked 21st in rushing yards with an average of 108.5 on about 20 carries per game. He had 159 yards against Vanderbilt. They run Russell Shepard (listed as a WR) about five times per game, and he gets about 35 yards per game.

Defense. This is where it gets a bit frightening, like the footsteps you hear on the other side of the door in the hall in horror flicks. Starting in our own backfield, we need to watch out for, well, everybody. LB Ryan Baker and DLs Drake Nevis and Sam Montgomery are all tied nationally at 34th in tackles for loss. Nevis is tied for 37th in sacks, and Montgomery is tied, along with yet another guy -- DB Tyrann Mathieu -- at 92nd in sacks.

And that's just in the backfield. Baker ranks 86th in regular old ordinary tackles, and LB Kelvin Sheppard is 39th, averaging 9.5 tackles per game.

When you're not getting tackled, you're worried about interceptions, with DBs Patrick Peterson, who's now getting Heisman hype, and Morris Claiborne both ranking nationally (27th, both of them) in interceptions.

Special teams. This is where the door opens, and the next victim gasps at seeing the sharp instrument of her demise. Patrick Peterson ranks 2nd and 15th nationally in punt and kickoff returns. He averages 28.11 yards per punt return and 31.67 per kick return. He's returned two punts for TDs already this season and nearly had another long punt return that was wiped out by a penalty. A glimmer of hope here is that he's not actually made it to the end zone on any kickoffs. Oh, and their field goal kicker is tied for 5th in the nation, so he's good, too. Or maybe it's because the offense starts within spitting distance of the end zone and often still can't get in.

Head to Head Comparisons

The head-to-head worked fairly well against Florida, at least where Florida's numbers, Tennessee's total yards, and the relative scores were concerned. This week against UAB? Not so good:

  Prediction Result Grade
UT rush 180 42 FAIL
UT pass 300 245 Eh
UAB rush 200 115 Fail
UAB pass 185 429 FAIL!!!
UT score 34 32 WIN
UAB score 17 29 FAIL!!

Hey, I almost got our score right.

But let's try this again.

  Tennessee Logo LSU Logo
Best Comparable(s)
Result Against Best Comparable
Prediction
UT rush v. LSU rush defense 146
(#70)
75
(#8)
Florida
(94)
(#13)
29 25
UT pass v. LSU pass defense 215
(#66)
180
(#38)
Oregon
(172)
(#31)
151 170
LSU rush v. UT rush defense 142
(#61)
190
(#35)
UAB
(182)
(#40)
115 180
LSU pass v. UT pass defense 221
(#72)
110
(#115)
Florida
(186)
(#90)
167 100
UT scoring offense v. LSU scoring defense 28
(#60)
12
(#5)
Oregon
(11)
(#3)
13 13
LSU scoring offense v. UT scoring defense 27
(#81)
27
(#65)
UAB
(25)
(#71)
29 31

 

As always, these are informed guesses rather than mathematical calculations. The general analytical framework is this: We are averaging X in a certain category. The opponent averages Y against that, which is most closely comparable to some identified previous opponent, against whom we did Z. All of that leads to an informed guess labeled as Prediction. The less data you have, the more sketchy the guess, and the guesses range from ALL CAPS SKETCHY WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS at the beginning of the season to merely lower case sketchy for the last game.

This week's example: Remarkably, we're still averaging 146 yards on the ground. LSU is holding opponents to 75, though, which is closest to what Florida is doing. Against the Gators, we managed only 29 yards. Add to that that we also struggled against UAB, I'm thinking we'll be lucky to get 25 rushing yards, which . . . wow, ugh, ack, and all that.

Sketchy Conclusions

  • LSU appears to be winning because of their special teams and defense, both of which give the offense, which is struggling, short fields.
  • On offense, the Tigers are fine rushing the ball, but they haven't been able to pass very well at all so far this season.
  • Their defense is strong across the board. Rushing yards against them will be at a premium. If they're vulnerable anywhere, it's in the passing game, but they're fairly solid there as well, and I fear Matt Simms will be eaten alive before he can throw the ball anyway.
  • Patrick Peterson is The Plague, okay? Avoid him at all costs. He's an elite talent returning punts and kickoffs, having already returned two punts for TDs this season. He hasn't yet returned a kickoff for a TD, though, so if Tennessee can focus all of its effort on bottling him up on kickoffs and teaching Chad Cunningham to punt the ball out of bounds or straight up in the air so all 11 cover guys can form a circle around him while he makes a fair catch, it can take away one of LSU's greatest advantages and deny the offense some of the privilege of working with short fields.

Predictions

  • LSU 31, Tennessee 13.
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