KNOXVILLE — A year after beating Tennessee with no time on the clock, LSU clocked the Volunteers the entire second half on Saturday in Neyland Stadium.
The top-ranked Tigers methodically imposed their will while driving for three straight touchdowns in the second half of a 38-7 SEC victory.
LSU’s first second-half march lasted 7:01 and covered 66 yards in 12 plays. Spencer Ware finished it with a 1-yard TD with 7:53 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers’ next drive was a 16-play, 99-yarder that lasted 8:44. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson capped it with a 3-yard run with 8:55 remaining.
Russell Shepard scored on a 14-yard quick out pattern that was ruled a lateral for the final score with 1:35 left. It concluded a 10-play, 65-yard drive that lasted 6:08.
LSU (4-0, 7-0) had the ball longer in the second half (21:59) than the Volunteers (0-3, 3-3) had it the entire game (21:41). The majority of 101,822 in attendance were headed for the exits by the end of the third quarter.
“In the second half we had a couple of third-down opportunities where we didn’t execute and they pounded us,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “I don’t know any other way to say it. Just running through tackles, running around us. … We only had two possessions in the second half. … It’s like bleeding to death.”
Tennesssee was playing its first game without injured quarterback Tyler Bray. Backup Matt Simms nearly led UT to a victory last year at LSU, but couldn’t make things interesting in the rematch. Simms finished 6 of 20 for 128 yards and two interceptions.
The first interception was the game’s most pivotal play. After Simms completed a 38-yard pass up the right sideline to the LSU 42-yard line thanks to a difficult catch by Rajion Neal, Simms threw a deep pass up the left sideline on the ensuing play. But Morris Claiborne intercepted it at the LSU 6 and returned it 89 yards to the Tennessee 5 with nine seconds left in the first quarter.
Two plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Jarrett Lee completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Reuben Randle for the game’s first score.
Lee completed a screen pass to Ware for a 13-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-11 to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead with ten minutes left in the first half.
Tennessee put together an impressive 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that Tauren Poole capped from two yards out, and Michael Palardy’s PAT made it 14-7 with 2:24 left in the half. Poole, who finished with 19 carries for 70 yards, had eight carries for 30 yards on the drive, which was jump-started by Da’Rick Rogers’ 44-yard reception to the LSU 34-yard line on 3rd-and-8.
Tennessee’s momentum was fleeting. Randle made cornerback Marsalis Teague miss a tackle after catching a hitch 10 or 15 yards down field, and parlayed the move into a 45-yard reception to the Tennessee 10. It set up an 18-yard Drew Alleman field goal that gave the Tigers a 17-7 lead with 15 seconds left in the half.
“When you give up a 99-yard (89) play — it was a backbreaker,” Dooley said. “And then we don’t tackle a guy on the hitch right before the half, and that’s 10 points right there.”
LSU finished with 52 rushes for 268 yards. The physical Ware had 23 carries for 80 yards and the strong, swift Jefferson had 14 carries for 73 yards.
“Late in the game, with the opportunity to run the football, I don’t know that we were perfect, but I felt like we did the things we needed to do,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I like the way Spencer Ware runs the football — physical.”
Tennessee’s running game was the best it’s looked between the tackles against an SEC opponent.
“Tauren Poole ran really well,” Dooley said. “He was focused and wasn’t trying to make big plays. He was jamming it up in there and the line blocked well.”
Dooley said Simms’ game management aided the ground game, too. Simms also had four or five passes that could’ve or should’ve been caught.
“Matt did some good things,” Dooley said. “There’s some throws he’s gonna want back. One of the interceptions was a bad mistake.”
LSU’s defense, coached by former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis, held Tennessee to 239 yards.
Tennessee true freshman linebacker A.J. Johnson had a game-high 11 tackles. Volunteers defensive tackle Daniel Hood had the game’s lone sack.
Rogers had three catches for 63 yards for the Vols.
Randle led all receivers with five catches for 86 yards. Lee finished 10-of-14 passing for 115 yards and two TDs.
LSU sophomore free safety Eric Reid had an interception.
Tennessee visits No. 2 Alabama on Saturday at 7:15 (ESPN or ESPN2).