It seems bizarre to say, but Tennessee can win at LSU without one of the most talented players in college football, who just happens to be a projected first-round NFL Draft pick.
Cedric Tillman’s availability remains a mystery after undergoing a procedure to quicken his return from a high ankle sprain suffered against Akron. Still, he’s forecasted as the No. 21 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, according to ESPN’s Todd McShay.
In this day and age, Tillman could sit out the rest of the season and it wouldn’t be thought of as very odd. Instead, Tillman is still engaged, still a part of the team and still a factor even if he doesn’t take the field on Saturday against LSU.
“He’s still being the leader like he always has,” Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt said “You know, texting me and calling me and you know he’ll come in meetings and rally everybody up and make sure everybody’s good. Like I said, he’s the leader in that room. We all respect him. We all look up to him, so just having his presence there, you know it just changes everything.”
The Vols proved they’re still explosive against Florida when Tillman was sidelined. That’s a testament to several things, including overall talent, coaching and one facet that might be overlooked.
“It’s just preparation,” Hyatt said when asked how the Vols fared so well without Tillman. “We knew we had to step up, especially with one of our big-time receivers out and we just want to keep going with the preparation that we’re doing each week and for the game day.
“So, when we’re focused throughout the week, that’s the outcome we want on Saturday. So we just got to keep going.”
Hyatt wants a victory in Tiger Stadium on Saturday. That result will rely largely on Tennessee’s passing attack, which hasn’t shown any weaknesses so far. The Vols have the highest rated passing offense in the SEC. Long known for its defensive backs, LSU might not be as good it has been in the past, but they’re still formidable. The Tigers have the fifth best passing defense in the SEC.
When asked about LSU’s defensive backs, Hyatt said, “Long physical, know how to get to the ball. We just have to be physical, be fast (and) play decisive. You know they’re a team where you know we’re going see a lot of man, a lot of man coverage. So you know we’re going have to win out there on the perimeter…So, just another team, another game, another big-time game. So we have to, you know, do what we do.”
There’s always a chance that LSU could throw a new defense at the Vols. Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said earlier this week that the Tigers utilize various coverages. If LSU switches up things on the Vols, Hyatt said the Vols will be ready.
“We have an answer for everything,” he said with a smile.
So far, Hyatt is right. The Vols have found an answer when it comes to replacing Tillman and proceeded along quite well. Tennessee has also shown it can win on the road, against Pittsburgh, and beat an SEC opponent, against Florida. On Saturday, the Vols will have to do both. While the winner has yet to be determined, one thing is for sure: the Vols don’t lack confidence.