There were plenty of prognosticators that picked Tennessee to beat LSU on Saturday. While positive predictions for the Vols were plentiful, few thought that Tennessee would control the LSU game from beginning to end. Yet, that’s exactly what the Vols did.
Tennessee beat LSU 40-13 on Saturday in Baton Rouge, La., in a game that was never in doubt from the opening kickoff to the final whistle.
Here are the grades for the Vols in another big win for Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel:
Quarterback – A –
Hendon Hooker was as savvy as he’s ever been in the pocket during the LSU game. His 45-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter couldn’t have been thrown any better.
Just when it looked like Hooker was struggling with his accuracy in the second quarter, he found Bru McCoy for a 32-yard gain that resulted in a field goal on the following play. That kept the momentum going.
Hooker wasn’t as good in the beginning of the second half. He fumbled the ball in the third quarter, which was recovered by Tennessee. He then threw the ball into coverage, which he rarely does.
Hooker ended the day with an incredible stat line – as usual. The senior completed 17-of-27 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns and (still) zero interceptions. Hooker ran the ball 10 times for 56 yards against LSU. Hooker has thrown a touchdown pass in 17 consecutive games. That’s one shy of former Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler’s school record.
Running Backs – A
Jabari Small began the game running decisively with a one-yard touchdown run and kept it up throughout the game. The runs just got longer, including a 50-yard run that would have been a long touchdown had it not been for a stumble in the open field. Small also turned in a 49-yard run.
Jaylen Wright ran well in early relief. That’s a sign that the Vols feel very comfortable with two tailbacks, which will keep Small fresh throughout the season. Wright fumbled the ball in the third quarter that bounced out of bounds. That needs to be remedied.
Receivers/Tight Ends – A+
Bru McCoy looked like a natural on the receiver screen in the first quarter. He looked like a natural all day long, with seven receptions for 140 yards. Jalin Hyatt, if he wasn’t already, is a known commodity. He caught passes four passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensive Line – A
Tennessee ran for 262 yards on 49 carries and controlled the line of scrimmage against a good LSU defensive front. There was one rarity. The Vols allowed a bust in the second quarter that resulted in a hard hit on Hooker. It’s tough to determine who was at fault on that play, but those kind of hits have to be eliminated. Hooker is too important. Tennessee’s offensive line is becoming a team strength.
Defensive Line – A +
Byron Young is an SEC Defensive Player of the Week Award candidate again. He took advantage of an LSU offensive line that was playing without its starting left tackle, who shared on social media that he was in the hospital on Friday with an undisclosed illness. Joshua Josephs is likely the Vols’ next standout defensive player. He had a sack and continues to flash some special ability with his length and quickness.
LaTrell Bumphus led a charge of Vols to end a second quarter drive with a sack. Bryson Eason had a sack in the second quarter. Omari Thomas registered a sack in the fourth quarter that stymied an LSU two-point conversion attempt. The Vols allowed LSU to rush for only 55 yards on 28 carries.
Linebackers – B+
Aaron Beasley blitzed at just the right time on fourth down in the second quarter that ended an LSU drive, which resulted in a Tennessee touchdown on the ensuing play. Jeremy Banks showed off some great pass coverage in the second quarter, batting the ball away. Linebacker Roman Harrison registered a sack. He also had a key quarterback hurry on LSU’s final drive of the first half.
Banks was called for a facemask penalty, but otherwise played well, including a masterful breakup of a screen pass in the third quarter. Banks started the season slow, but seems to be trending in the right direction.
Defensive Backs – B+
The Vols have certainly struggled in the secondary this season. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. Tennessee gave up 300 yards passing against the Tigers, but most of those yards came when the game was well in hand. Sure, LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels has struggled this season, but the Vols didn’t allow him any room downfield to resurrect his season.
Kamal Hadden had a key tackle to end an LSU drive on fourth down. Hadden was called for a facemark in the second quarter. The Vols were just incredibly solid in the defensive backfield. That hasn’t been said often. Even without defensive back Warren Burrell, who was ruled out for the season last week with an injury, the Vols looked like they took a step in the right direction on Saturday. Trevon Flowers ended the game with an interception.
Special Teams – A
LSU fumbled the opening kickoff, which resulted in a touchdown on the ensuing drive. That was the beginning of a solid day in the kicking game.
Dee Williams returned a punt 58 yards but was tackled by LSU’s punter. He’d like to have that one back. He should have scored. Punter Paxton Brooks dropped a punt perfectly inside the five-yard line to pin LSU deep in the second quarter. Chase McGrath made four of five field goals, just barely missing a 50-yard attempt in the first half.
Coaching – A+
The Vols were certainly ready to play in their first SEC road game this season. If any Vol was thinking about playing No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, it didn’t show up in the bayou.
The shovel pass in the second quarter on fourth down in the second quarter was pure gold. The Vols had a substitution error in the first quarter that cost them a timeout. If that’s the extent of Tennessee’s coaching mistakes this season, the Vols will surpass all preseason expectations.
Overall – A+
The next evolution of Tennessee’s program under Josh Heupel will consist of better defensive play and the ability to control the clock with the lead. Both of those aspects were on display against LSU. That could be a sign of great things to come.