It was supposed to be a festive night at Neyland Stadium. Peyton Manning was in the house and Butch Jones wasn’t. But a driving rain and one player’s inability to field a punt dampened the night — pun intended — as No. 20 LSU cruised to a 30-10 win over Tennessee on a windy, soggy night in Knoxville.
Tennessee actually played an decent first half, which was largely erased by Marquez Callaway muffing not one but two punts.
Callaway’s first fumble came at his own 15 yard line, which LSU’s Russell Gage hopped on. The Tigers gained only two yards on the ensuing possession, but it was enough to allow Connor Culp to knock through a 30-yard field goal.
Tennessee answered with a 14-play, 53-yard drive that killed over half a quarter. The 7-minute, 39-second march ended at the LSU 27-yard line, allowing Aaron Medley to tie the game with a 45-yard boot with 13:59 left in the second quarter.
LSU’s offense went three-and-out again, but Callaway again fumbled the ensuing punt, which Michael Divinity, Jr. grabbed at the Tennessee 19. LSU’s offense capitalized this time, as Darrel Williams rushed in from 10 yards out to put the Tigers up 10-3 with 11:31 left in the frame.
Tennessee strung together another double-digit play drive that ended at nearly the exact same spot as the previous one — this one was the 28 — but swirling winds pushed Medley’s 46-yard field goal (far, far) wide left.
But as the weather picked up, both offenses came alive.
LSU closed the half by putting up its first self-made points of the night. The Tigers needed only 28 seconds to move 61 yards as Danny Etling hit Derrick Dillon for a 12-yard completion, Williams rushed for 36 yards and Etling carried for a 13-yard touchdown with 2:08 left in the first half.
The Vols struck back after LSU’s score, moving 75 yards in four plays and 45 seconds. Jarrett Guarantano hit Callaway for consecutive long passes, one for 26 yards and another for 46, which Callaway caught through pass interference and turned into a touchdown with 1:23 left in the first half.
LSU completely dominated the second half, though. After forcing Tennessee back to its own 3 on the opening possession of the second half, LSU accepted the ball at midfield and handed the ball to Derrius Guice seven times in a 9-play drive, including the final carry, a 3-yard burst to put the Tigers up 23-10 after Culp missed the ensuing extra point.
The clubs traded punts on their next possessions and, facing a 13-point deficit with 17 minutes remaining and nothing to lose, Brady Hoke elected to go for a 4th-and-1 from his own 21. Guarantano was stuffed, and LSU needed only two plays to push the lead to 30-10 with 2:06 left in the third quarter.
Etling finished the game hitting 11-of-15 passes for 81 yards with nine carries for 42 yards and a touchdown. Guice led all runners with 97 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, while Williams added seven carries for 68 yards and two touchdowns.
Guarantano connected on 13-of-23 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown, while John Kelly mustered only 47 yards on 25 carries.
Saturday night’s game was the two sides’ first meeting since 2011, also in Knoxville, which ended in a 38-7 LSU win. The Tigers have won five straight in the series.
The win keeps LSU (8-3, 5-2 SEC) in prime position for a spot in one of the Florida New Year’s Day bowl games, while Tennessee (4-7, 0-7 SEC) needs to beat Vanderbilt next week to avoid the first 8-loss season and the first winless SEC season in school history.