Death Valley Voice: There hasn’t been an SEC East team that has beaten LSU in Death Valley since 2016 (2008 if you don’t count LSU’s SEC East rival, Florida). Further, the Volunteers haven’t beaten the Tigers since 2005 in any location. How does all of this make Tennessee fans feel heading into this game?
All for Tennessee: Honestly, that doesn’t worry Vol fans too much. Given how far the program has fallen, even thinking they have a chance in Death Valley is a huge deal. Let’s go back and look at all the other losses to LSU since 2005.
In 2017, the Vols were a week removed from firing Butch Jones, and they were en route to their worst season in school history. Before that, in 2011, they were a 5-7 team facing an LSU team that would go undefeated in the regular season and should’ve won the national championship (Alabama had no right to play them that year again). A year earlier, in 2010, the only reason for the heartbreak was how it ended, with the 13-men on the field penalty as time expired. However, the Vols were a bad team that season, as it was Derek Dooley’s first on the job, and LSU was riding high as a program. That game was in Death Valley. In 2007, they lost the SEC Championship game, but LSU was the better team and significantly so.
Probably the last time these two teams were on an even or just similar playing field in terms of talent was when LSU won in Knoxville in 2006.
Of course, Vol fans dwell on those heartbreaking losses in 2006, 2007 and 2010. Nothing, though, tops 2001, when they were No. 2 and set to play for the national title if they beat a far inferior LSU team in the SEC Championship that they had already blown out earlier in the year. They went up 17-7, LSU lost their quarterback and running back, and an unknown quarterback named Matt Mauck led by this young up-and-comer in Nick Saban shocked them in the second half, coming back to win 31-20. It’s not an exaggeration to say that’s the worst loss in program history, one the Vols have never recovered from.
Death Valley Voice: Everybody knows about star quarterback Hendon Hooker, but who are some of the other playmakers that fans should watch for on Saturday?
All for Tennessee: Bru McCoy has emerged as an elite wideout, particularly with Cedric Tillman banged up. Jalin Hyatt can be deadly in the slot. On defense, Byron Young was an All-SEC edge rusher entering the year, and Omari Thomas has become a game-changer at defensive tackle.
Death Valley Voice: What do you make of the Vols’ struggles in the secondary thus far? Do you believe it’s a blessing or a curse to be going up against an LSU team struggling to throw the ball right now?
All for Tennessee: As mentioned above, they just don’t have anybody good enough to guard a team’s No. 1 receiver. With Warren Burrell now out for the year, it’s only going to be worse. Given the fact that Florida was struggling to throw the ball before facing the Vols, I would say it’s a curse. However, there are some advantages to facing LSU that don’t come with facing Florida, including the fact that LSU is one of the worst teams at preventing sacks while Florida is one of the best. That goes back to the pressure point I brought up earlier, and it could help the Vols take pressure off their secondary.