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No. 8 Tennessee heads on the road to Death Valley for the first time since 2010 on Saturday to battle No. 25 LSU in a pivotal cross-division SEC clash. LSU has taken the last five games in the series, but the Tigers are slight underdogs at home against a Tennessee team that has surged to its highest ranking in the AP poll since 2006.
LSU just cracked the poll for the first time this season under first-year coach Brian Kelly after improving to 4-1 with a 21-17 victory at Auburn. The Tigers began the season with a devastating 24-23 loss to Florida State but have ticked off four straight victories since then while seeking to cement an identity under their new staff.
Whoever wins this game figures to enjoy a good bit of national attention as the midway point of the 2022 season approaches. Including this game, LSU plays three of its next four at home against teams ranked in the top 10, and a victory would reinforce just how difficult it is to win at Tiger Stadium before No. 9 Ole Miss and No. 1 Alabama visit in the coming weeks.
The Volunteers, meanwhile, can set themselves up for a gargantuan home showdown with the Crimson Tide next week if they emerge from Death Valley with a 5-0 record.
Star receiver questions: Coming off a breakout 1,000 yard season in 2021, Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman was off to a fast start this season before suffering an ankle injury in Week 3 against Akron. Tillman underwent surgery, and coach Josh Heupel was non-committal this week about whether he will play against LSU.
As for the Tigers, Kelly has repeatedly found himself answering questions this season about Kayshon Boutte. Ranked No. 10 in CBS Sports’ 2023 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, the former five-star has just 11 catches for 97 yards in four games this season. Boutte missed the Tigers’ win over New Mexico for the birth of his child, but that one-game absence only partially explains why the star junior ranks just fourth on the team in receptions and sixth in yards. “Would he like the ball more? Absolutely,” Kelly said, “but he’s handled himself in the right way and he continues to work for the team.”
A wild finish: The last time these teams met at Tiger Stadium in 2010, a particularly wild ending unfolded that might be painful for Tennessee fans to relive. LSU fans likely have fond memories, though, considering the Tigers escaped with a 16-14 victory following an untimed down after it appeared the Volunteers had stuffed LSU on the game’s final play. The only problem was that, amid the frenzy of the game’s final seconds, Tennessee wound up with too many players on the field. So even though a botched snap ruined the Tigers’ chances of scoring a game-winning touchdown, they got the chance to run another play from the 1-yard-line. From there, Stevan Ridley punched it in for a touchdown. The loss came to be viewed as a microcosm of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley’s three-year tenure, and it started a four-game losing streak for the Volunteers. LSU went on to finish 11-2 with a Cotton Bowl victory.
Quarterback battle: Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker is largely responsible for the Volunteers’ No. 1-ranked offense, but his counterpart is still figuring things out. LSU’s Jayden Daniels hasn’t thrown an interception this season, and he is completing 67.9% of his passes and has 321 yards rushing as a true dual-threat quarterback. But he was also just 8 of 20 for 80 yards against Auburn last week and hasn’t fully clicked with Boutte. LSU’s passing offense ranks 68th in the country and Daniels has just one passing touchdown in his last three games
Playing the Volunteers could be exactly what he needs to get on track. Tennessee ranks 128th in passing yards allowed per game at 309.2. in a 38-33 win over Florida two weeks ago, Tennessee allowed Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson to throw for 453 yards, which surpassed his previous career-high by more than 200 yards. As a freshman at Arizona State in 2019, Daniels threw for 2,943 yards and had seven performance of 250 yards or more. If he’s going to find that form again, this could be the week to start.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 8 | Time: 12 p.m. ET
Location: Tiger Stadium — Baton Rouge, Louisiana
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Auburn racked up 438 yards against LSU’s defense last week, which is a concern given how weak Auburn has looked offensively this season. While LSU came away with a big road win, much of it was likely attributable to a +3 edge in turnover margin. Replicating that against Tennessee’s high-powered attack may be a problem. LSU shouldn’t have too much trouble scoring against the Volunteers, but Tennessee is more consistent offensively and should be able to outscore the Tigers. Prediction: Tennessee (-3)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 6, and which Top 25 favorite will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.
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