Top-ranked LSU travels to Tennessee

For the second straight week, LSU’s vaunted defense faces a quarterback making his first start of the season.

While that would seem to spell certain doom for Tennessee, the Volunteers have confidence that Matt Simms can deliver a victory. After all, he nearly pulled out a stunning win at Tiger Stadium a year ago.

Top-ranked LSU looks to continue its impressive start and beat Tennessee for the fourth straight time Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed LSU as a 17-point road favorite, with the total set at 45.

The Tigers (6-0, 3-0 SEC) are atop the AP poll for a third consecutive week for the first time since 1959, and they’re the first team in school history to win their first six games by double digits. Four of those victories have come over ranked teams, including last Saturday’s 41-11 win over then-No. 17 Florida.

Their two wins over unranked foes were by a combined 84-10 score, and that doesn’t bode well for a Volunteers team which has lost seven straight and 13 of 14 to Top 25 teams.

Tennessee (3-2, 0-2) also must overcome one of the nation’s top defenses.

The Tigers give up an average of 12.5 points – tied for eighth-best in the FBS – and rank fifth in total defense at 254.0 yards allowed per game after holding Florida to 213. They hounded freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett in his debut as the Gators’ starter and intercepted two of his 14 pass attempts.

“We’ve had a nice start, but we’re not satisfied with our position right now,” coach Les Miles said. “I like how the season has progressed, but we look forward to the next games. In this season and in every season it’s about the next game, never about the last game. Our guys are looking forward to Tennessee.”

LSU has won three straight over the Volunteers since a 30-27 loss in 2005 – when both teams were ranked in the top 10 – although the Tigers originally appeared to lose last season’s meeting.

Unranked Tennessee stopped then-No. 12 LSU at the goal line as time expired but was penalized for having too many men on the field. That set up a one-yard touchdown run by Stevan Ridley to give the Tigers a 16-14 win.

Simms got the start in that game, and he’ll make his first start of the season this weekend after Tyler Bray broke the thumb on his throwing hand in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s 20-12 loss to Georgia.

Although Bray leads the SEC with 14 touchdown passes and an average of 315.8 yards per game, Simms has plenty of experience and led the Vols to their only touchdown against the Bulldogs last weekend. The senior passed for 1,460 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions in eight starts last season before being replaced by Bray.

“Last year at LSU, (Simms) led us down there and we beat up on them pretty bad right until the last of the game,” offensive guard Alex Bullard said. “We have confidence in him. We can definitely win with Matt. We can beat LSU with Matt playing quarterback. It’s just all about 11 guys executing on both sides of the ball and doing what we have to do against these guys.”

Simms, however, is taking over a one-dimensional offense that doesn’t have a reliable running game. That’s unlikely to change against LSU, which allows 69.2 rushing yards per game to rank fourth in the FBS and 2.3 per carry to rank fifth.

The Vols are 114th out of 120 FBS schools in rushing, averaging 84.8 yards, after finishing with minus-20 on 23 attempts against Georgia.

“We can’t run the ball,” said coach Derek Dooley, an LSU assistant from 2000-2004. “If we can’t run the ball, we can’t beat good football teams. That’s a fact.”

The Vols also have to contend with an LSU offense that has moved the ball with ease.

Against the Gators, Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson combined to complete 10 of 14 passes for 215 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The offense also racked up 238 rushing yards – led by Spencer Ware’s 109 – against a Florida defense that came in ranked in the top 20 against the run.

“We just go in and play great football,” said wideout Rueben Randle, third in the SEC with 446 receiving yards. “Our coaches have a great plan and we just go out and execute it. We have a great team and great talent around here.”

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