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LSU players and a game official signal a fumbled Tennessee punt return that was recovered by LSU wide receiver Russell Gage (83) in the first quarter on Saturday, November 18, 2017, at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The LSU Tigers came here hoping for a romp past a flailing and failing Tennessee Volunteers team.

Instead the game turned into the kind that had to be survived.

Literally. An LSU fan was injured during the first half when winds from an approaching storm front whipped through old Neyland Stadium and blew a piece of sheet metal off the big scoreboard above the south end zone stands.

There was definitely an old-school feel to the entire evening. Chilly rain. Grass field. LSU trying to stuff the run down Tennessee’s throat like Billy Cannon and the White Team in the game here in 1959, the 14-13 loss that cost the Tigers a likely second straight national championship.

For a time it was a cross between the 1988 LSU-Miami game in Tiger Stadium and Super Bowl XLVII in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The wind was howling, banks of stadium lights flickered out (seeking shelter, apparently), the goal posts were rocking and strands of pompoms were swirling through the air like the tornado scene from “The Wizard of Oz.”

They were some of the worst conditions I’ve seen the Tigers play in during the past 30 years. How in the name of the 2015 LSU-McNeese State game was this game not halted because of weather?

“It was fun,” said linebacker Devin White brightly.

“I just hope I’m not too sick tomorrow."

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Fortunately for the Tigers, their prospects for what looked like such a sure victory weren’t gone with the wind.

LSU didn’t play great for great stretches, with disturbing issues in all three phases of the game. Had they not been playing such a lousy opponent, the Tigers’ chances of victory might have evaporated.

“It looks like both schools are trying to beat each other in the area of ineptness,” LSU radio color analyst Doug Moreau said dryly. “And they’re succeeding.”

But you play whom the schedule puts in front of you, and LSU did finally manage to take advantage of an outclassed, mistake-prone opponent as it pulled away for a final 30-10 victory.

Early on, though, LSU looked anemic on offense. Against a Vols team that seemed lost and disinterested surrendering 433 yards rushing to Missouri in a 50-17 loss last week, the Tigers apparently thought they could just knock Tennessee off the ball.

They could not. Predictably, the Volunteers came out with “the box” stuffed full of orange jerseys angled to crush the run and some previously absent esprit de corps under interim coach Brady Hoke.

“The weather conditions changed the whole game plan,” said Derrius Guice, who had 97 yards to become the fifth LSU player with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. “Both teams had to run the ball a lot more. Tennessee had eight or nine in the box every time; safeties were about 5 yards deep. It’s just grind it out, get what you can.”

Two muffed punts by Tennessee’s Marques Callaway, soon after seen digging a hole to hide in behind the Tennessee bench, set up the Tigers at the Vols’ 13- and 19-yard line in the first half. LSU netted just 2 yards and a field goal after the first but got a Darrel Williams touchdown run after the second for a 10-3 lead.

After LSU finally mounted a sustained scoring drive, with Danny Etling churning 13 yards on a keeper for a 17-3 lead, Donte Jackson got victimized on a couple of deep passes as Jarret Guarantano hit Callaway with a 46-yard TD pass to make it 17-10 at halftime.

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Guice added a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter but Connor Culp, who missed two extra points in LSU’s 33-10 win over Arkansas a week earlier, hit the right upright on a PAT try this time to keep the score 23-10. Culp earlier hit the right upright to end the first half on a 53-yard field goal attempt he tried to thread through the howling wind, a much more understandable miss. Even so, Ed Orgeron said he will make Jack Gonsoulin LSU's kicker against Texas A&M.

The defense was victimized again by one of the worst offenses in the country as Guarantano hit Jeff George on a 60-yard pass when Kevin Toliver got turned around, moving the ball to the LSU 14 as the third quarter ended. The Tigers eventually held the Vols on downs at the 12, but not until after Jackson was flagged for flipping off the Tennessee student section, an inexcusable lack of poise and cool for one of LSU’s best players. But though the Tigers bent, they didn’t break much, allowing just 10 points for the second straight week and only 38 yards rushing, a low for one of LSU’s Southeastern Conference foes.

Now the Tigers return to Baton Rouge for their regular-season finale with Texas A&M, soggy, muddy and a little frustrated.

But for a team in LSU’s position, trying to win out to achieve the best possible record, ranking and bowl, style points are not part of the equation.


Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​