KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - On a sunny Saturday afternoon, the No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers again made protecting the football look like they were guarding Fort Knox.
The Tigers intercepted Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms twice in their 38-7 victory and didn’t turn the ball over themselves, making it four straight games since their last turnover.
Overall, LSU has committed just three turnovers this season - two fumbles and the last one, an interception thrown by Jarrett Lee at Mississippi State with 10:08 remaining in the fourth quarter on Sept. 15.
The Tigers now have a plus-13 turnover margin this season, having forced 16.
Since that interception of Lee, LSU has had 51 straight possessions and run 276 consecutive plays without giving the ball to the other team.
All told, that’s 250 minutes, 8 seconds of clock time.
For the season, the numbers are just as impressive. LSU has turned the ball over three times in 87 possessions while running 469 total plays.
The Tigers ran 69 yards on 10 plays Saturday, tying their mark against West Virginia for most plays in a game this season.
Play of the game
The Volunteers were feeling positive about their offense late in a scoreless first quarter after tailback Rajon Neal hauled in a 38-yard pass from Matt Simms on the UT sideline that was originally ruled an incompletion but reversed after a replay review.
On the next play from the LSU 42, Simms went deep again, looking for wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers along the Tigers’ sideline, when cornerback Morris Claiborne intercepted the ball at the 6.
Claiborne quickly reversed direction and sped up the middle of the field, slowing down to try to get around Simms in the Tennessee end. That allowed another receiver, Zach Rogers, to tackle him from behind at the Volunteers’ 5.
LSU scored two plays later on a 5-yard pass from Lee to Rueben Randle, but Claiborne’s teammates had already made him aware he could have easily scored had he cut left instead of right to avoid Simms.
“Tyrann (Mathieu) was saying, 'Why didn’t you cut it back?’” Claiborne said after the game.
Claiborne explained he couldn’t see where to go very well because he was so spent by the end of his run.
“I couldn’t see anything,” Claiborne said.
Claiborne said the Tigers were getting an earful from the Tennessee sideline in the first half but that he told his teammates to keep calm.
“They were saying, 'We’re going to run by you all night,’” Claiborne said. “I said, ?Don’t talk to them, just make a play.’”
Crunching the numbers
LSU failed to score in the first quarter Saturday, ending a streak of 31 straight quarters in which the Tigers scored.
Crunching the schedule
While much has been made of the fact that LSU defeated four ranked teams in its first six games - Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia away from home, Florida at home - the teams at the other end of the Tigers’ schedule have been as abysmal.
All four of the Southeastern Conference teams that began Saturday winless in SEC play - Tennessee (now 0-3), Kentucky (0-3), Ole Miss (now 0-3) and Mississippi State (now 0-4) were or will be on LSU’s schedule.
While the Vols lost to LSU, Mississippi State fell to South Carolina and Ole Miss lost to Alabama. Kentucky was idle.
Smokey has ACL injury
Tennessee’s mascot, an 8-year-old blue-tick coonhound named Smokey IX, was unable to run with the team through the T-formation of the band before kickoff as he usually does.
Smokey has been hobbled by a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right rear leg since the game against Cincinnati on Sept. 10 and appeared to aggravate the injury against Georgia last week.
Smokey, who has been rehabbing the injury, watched the game from the sideline. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Smokey has been undergoing rehabilitative therapy in an attempt to get through the season before having surgery. His treatment has included electrical stimulation, laser therapy, and walking on an underwater treadmill at the school’s veterinary clinic three times a week.
The Tennessee mascot was last seen baying at the LSU team as it left the field after Saturday’s game.
LSU’s game ball literally went to defensive coordinator John Chavis, who played at Tennessee from 1976-78 and was an assistant coach there from 1989-2008 (from 1995-2008) as defensive coordinator.
The season’s first BCS standings will be released at 7:15 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. LSU is 17-3 all-time when playing as a No. 1-ranked team. Tennessee is 0-10 under second-year coach and former LSU assistant Derek Dooley when trailing at halftime. UT still leads the series 20-9-3, though LSU has won four straight and is 6-2 against the Vols since 2000. ... LSU and Georgia are the only SEC teams to have scored first in every game this season. LSU returns home to host reigning national champion Auburn at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
Advocate sportswriters Scott Rabalais, Sheldon Mickles, Les East and Scott Hotard contributed to this report.