After the dust settled on a very hectic first week of the 2017 Tennessee football head coaching search, Vols fans were left with the realization that there was a game to be played this week. The opponent was LSU and despite the recent trend against SEC foes, fans were feeling a tad confident going into the matchup.
That's a bit odd considering what the Vols were up against. UT had only one healthy quarterback on the roster in starter Jarrett Guarantano and just five healthy offensive linemen. Tennessee was absolutely decimated on offense so it would be up to their defense to help keep them in the game.
The defense was able to answer the call early on and held their own during the first half. If wide receiver Marquez Callaway didn't muff two punts, they may have had an even better half.
LSU didn't convert a first down until under 12 minutes in the second quarter. The Vols held them to four straight three-and-outs until LSU running back Darrel Williams rumbled into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown to give LSU a 10-3 lead after both teams swapped field goals to start the scoring on the night.
It was obvious that the defense wasn't entirely at fault for allowing the touchdown. Of course, if you ask any defensive players they'd certainly tell you otherwise, but LSU's offense started that drive on the 19-damn-yard-line of the Vols. After holding the Tigers to a three-and-out and a field goal on the first screw-up, it was somewhat excusable if they weren't able to achieve the same results the second time around.
The defense had a really bad series toward the end of the half when they allowed Williams to break off a 36-yard run in the middle of a three play, 61-yard touchdown drive to give LSU a 14-point lead, 17-3.
But that didn't keep Tennessee down. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano scrambled around and found Callaway down the field for a 26-yard completion on third down to keep the following drive alive. Guarantano then found a streaking Callaway again on the next play for a 46-yard catch-and-run that resulted in six and put the Vols right back in the game, 17-10.
The Tigers were able to attempt a 53-yard field goal before halftime, but it fell short before both teams headed into the locker rooms.
The offense played pretty well in the first half. Guarantano was an excellent 10/12 for 144 yards and 1 TD and they led the in time of possession while converting a healthy 4-9 third down conversions.
The second half got off to a wild start as the weather officially became a factor. Rain started pouring down at insane rates of both speed and volume. The opening kickoff of the second half was almost a disaster for the Vols after the special teams couldn't track the ball in the air and almost lost a fumble as a result.
A look at the rain in Neyland right now: pic.twitter.com/m2UeNSbLPf— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) November 19, 2017
The defense, however, didn't get off to a very good start. They slid and slipped their way to allowing a touchdown on LSU's first offensive possession of the new half.
It was an absolutely soul-crushing drive. Head coach Ed Orgeron dialed up nine straight runs and steamrolled the Vols using running back Derrius Guice. LSU did not have one negative run on the drive and had extended the lead by 13 points before Tennessee could think about saying "uncle".
Just take a look at this drive summary. This is the perfect way to take someone's manhood:
Nine plays, 50 yards, a touchdown, and a missed extra point all resulted in a 23-10 lead for LSU.
Despite being down double-digits for the second time in the game, the coaching staff refused to open the playbook for Guarantano. The frustration was later compounded when interim head coach Brady Hoke declined to punt and kept the offense on the field for a 4th-and-1 conversion attempt on the Vols own 21-yard line.
Look, I get it. You're an interim head coach playing a conference opponent during a lost season. At this point you are merely trying to make a bowl game and you need a spark to get your team going. It's getting late in the game and you need to give your defense a break.
But you also need to give your defense a chance and giving LSU the ball on the Vols' 21-yard line doesn't give your defense a chance.
LSU took that poor decision and turned it into seven points after Williams scored his second touchdown of the night to put the Tigers up, 30-10.
Hoke finally decided to let Guarantano loose on the next drive and it paid off. Guarantano hit wide receiver Jeff George for a 61-yard completion to take Tennessee deep into LSU territory.
Guarantano led the Vols down inside of LSU's five-yard line, but the same red zone miscues that haunted Tennessee all season long showed up again and essentially cost them seven points.
Penalties put the Vols in a situation where they had to attempt another fourth-down conversion and they fell short again, but this time they were in much better field position to fail.
At least they learned to fail better, I guess?
The rest of the night didn't fare any better as you'd expect. The rain continued to fall and the Vols continued to fall harder. Not only did they continue to get beat on the scoreboard, but they continued to get beat up on the injury report.
At one point Jonathan Kongbo, Daniel Bituli, Kahlil McKenzie, Marquez Callaway, and Jashon Robertson were off of the field due to injury. McKenzie, Callaway, and Robertson did not return and their statuses for next week is unknown.
Overall, the game followed the expected script - the Vols would compete early on and make some plays, but would eventually be surpassed due to the lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball.
This team simply cannot compete in the SEC due to the injuries they have sustained at this point in the season. The good news is that Guarantano continues to develop and looks like he has a very bright future ahead of him in Knoxville.