After being run through the ringer, Tennessee could get soaked in Tide.
There’s no rest for the weary, banged-up Volunteers (0-3, 3-3), who must follow a 38-7 home loss to No. 1 LSU with a visit to Nick Saban’s second-ranked Alabama on Saturday (7:15 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2).
But as callous as it sounds, the Volunteers did catch a break Saturday in the form of South Carolina’s misfortune. Tennessee expected to be facing Heisman Trophycaliber running backs each of the next two weeks in Alabama’s Trent Richardson and USC’s Marcus Lattimore, but Lattimore was lost for the season to a knee injury in the Gamecocks’ 14-12 win on Saturday at Mississippi State.
Down the road from Starkville in Oxford, Richardson ran wild in the Crimson Tide’s 52-7 victory at Ole Miss.
LSU looks as fast and physical as any team in the country, but the Tigers don’t have a running back like Richardson. He rushed for 183 yards and four touchdowns, and his 76-yard TD made the Rebels tacklers, particularly Senquez Golson, look like a Peewee league outfit. Golson missed Richardson four yards behind the line of scrimmage, and after hustling some 65 yards downfield, was all but faked out of his uniform by Richardson.
Former Tennessee linebacker LaMarcus Thompson, who was a senior in 2010, said Richardson was clearly better than Mark Ingram. Such a statement wouldn’t raise an eyebrow now, but Thompson made that observation – calling Richardson “a bad boy” in a tone of utmost praise – at this point in the season last year when Ingram was the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
In fact, after Lattimore rushed for 184 yards in UT’s loss at South Carolina last year, Thompson said Richardson was the only back the Vols had faced who might have been better than Lattimore.
Richardson had 12 carries for 119 yards, including a 65-yard TD, in Alabama’s 41-10 win at Tennessee last year. Ingram had two TDs and 88 yards on 14 carries.
South Carolina’s offense hasn’t exactly been a thing of beauty with Lattimore. But as Kentucky showed in its comeback victory against USC last year, the Gamecocks have looked less than ordinary without him.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of emotional fuel Tennessee has left in the tank for South Carolina if the Vols endure another drubbing in Tuscaloosa like they absorbed against LSU.
Tennessee expended a lot of energy and emotion in the 38-7 loss to the Tigers.
Indeed, you couldn’t fault the effort. The Vols’ offensive line looked as physical as it has all season. Tauren Poole ran with purpose. And not only did brutish fullback Ben Bartholomew run over some tacklers on an early reception, but skinny freshman scatback Devrin Young dragged some tacklers on an early catch, too.
But ultimately, Tennessee received many more blows – at times, even when trying to deliver them. Prentiss Waggner stayed down several minutes after a dangerous head-first hit on sturdy, 225-pound quarterback Jordan Jefferson in the second quarter.
Waggner, a redshirt junior from Clinton, La., had already been steamrolled on LSU’s first play from scrimmage by 223-pound Spencer Ware. After a couple of lopsided collisions, UT freshman defensive back Brian Randolph was probably worse for Ware on Sunday morning as well. Randolph was second among Vols tacklers with nine stops against the Tigers. Another freshman, 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker A.J. Johnson, looked like he belonged while recording a game-high 11 tackles.
“A.J., especially, has more physicality than anybody we have in the back seven,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “I told y’all this was gonna be his kind of game. He’s got stature that can compete against these kinds of teams.”
Senior quarterback Matt Simms should be better with a start under his belt. He said making your first start of the season against a No. 1 team and one of nation’s best defenses can cause some anxiety.
Despite a short drop and quick route, Simms was hit hard early in the game by linebacker Karnell Hatcher just after releasing a pass. Simms, perhaps wary of all the criticism about his holding the ball too long in the pocket, wasn’t sacked against LSU and rarely looked away from a primary option.
And LSU still tallied four quarterback hurries.
“They’re a good defense,” Simms said, “and they didn’t allow us to do a lot of the things that we wanted to do. … Obviously, it was a tough one, but as the game went on I got a little more comfortable, and I believe we can start faster next week.”
Regardless of how Simms starts, as long as he’s able to finish against Alabama, the Vols should have a realistic chance at a victory against South Carolina.