LSU’s controversial 16-14 last-second victory over Tennessee last year was marred in the eyes of many, especially Volunteer fans, but not in LSU coach Les Miles’ eyes.
“Victory is victory. No matter what way you cut it,” Miles said. “The enjoyment that I had after that game was significant with the feel of victory. I don’t necessarily think there was bad taste in anybody’s mouth in any way. I can tell you that we did the things we needed to do in unusual circumstances to get victory. I enjoyed it and I am going to stay that way.”
Miles and the No. 1 Tigers visit Knoxville Saturday, where they are just 2-11-1, with a 3:39 p.m. kickoff on CBS.
“I think Tennessee is a quality football team,” Miles said. “They are physical. They are 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the SEC. Derek Dooley is doing a tremendous job in his second year there. They have their guys playing well on every down.”
LSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC) has arguably faced the toughest schedule so far this season and still come away unscathed. They have played four ranked opponents (No. 3 Oregon, at No. 25 Mississippi State, at No. 16 West Virginia and No. 17 Florida) and won by double digits in all contests.
The Tigers’ offense is all about balance, having rushed for 1,101 yards and passed for 1,100 yards. They have both the second-best offense and defense in the SEC, averaging 38.5 points a game and holding opponents to 12.5 points.
LSU has a plus-11 turnover margin with eight interceptions and six fumble recoveries on defense. Tennessee has just one interception and four fumble recoveries.
Since Jordan Jefferson returned from his four-game suspension, the Tigers may have a quarterback controversy. Jefferson made his season debut in a 35-7 win against Kentucky on Oct. 1, but did not attempt a pass until last week’s 41-11 win against Florida, in which he went 3-of-4 for 61 yards and a touchdown, along with four rushes.
Fifth-year senior Jarrett Lee has managed the games for LSU in Jefferson’s absence after serving as the second option in a two-headed QB tandem last season, throwing eight touchdowns against one interception this year. LSU has not demanded much of him, though. He has thrown as little as 10 passes (twice) in a game this season and no more than 27.
“We’re going to be able to run it or throw it with either quarterback in the game,” Miles said. “It does not make a difference. Our offense is handled well by both quarterbacks. It just means that you cannot gang up on certain skills that Jordan Jefferson has because of his feet. We’re going to throw the ball with balance like we always have.”
The Tigers have three capable running backs, led by sophomore Spencer Ware, that have combined for 15 touchdowns this year. Ware is averaging over four yards a carry for 432 yards. Michael Ford has 324 yards and six touchdowns, and Alfred Blue has 218 yards with four scores.
Reuben Randle (23 receptions, 446 yards) and Odell Beckham (20 receptions, 268 yards) have headed the receiving corps for the Tigers.
“We have a lot of personnel on offense, and a lot of players are stepping up at key times and making plays,” receiver Russell Shepard said.
Matt Simms, who started against LSU last season, is the Vols’ starting quarterback with Tyler Bray out with a fractured thumb.
“I know that their quarterback Tyler Bray is not expected to be there for our game, but I can tell you that Matt Simms played well against us the year before in our stadium,” Miles said.
Chavis back on Rocky Top
Former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis makes his first return to Neyland Stadium since taking the same position with LSU in 2009. Chavis coached for the Vols from 1989-’98, taking over as defensive coordinator in 1995. Chavis was a middle guard for the Vols from ’76-’78 and was a graduate assistant in ’79.