published Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Greeson: LSU defense set to badger UT

Wow, Matt Simms must be living under a dark cloud.

Simms was Tennessee's starting quarterback in the rugged first two months of the 2010 season -- taking a whopping 28 sacks in eight starts -- before Tyler Bray took over against the non-murderous row of Memphis, Ole Miss, Vandy and Kentucky. Bray's broken thumb last week means Simms is again the Volunteers' starter -- just in time for today's visit from top-ranked LSU.

Barring an injury of his own, Simms will be the starter at least for the next month while Bray is on the mend. The next three weeks will be a chore with LSU, then Alabama and South Carolina. The first two have the top two defenses in the free world, and the Gamecocks have one of the best defensive lines in the country.

Let's just say it would be easy to forgive Simms for looking for a way to roll an ankle this morning or bumping into the famous "Opportunity is Nowhere" door and pulling an Al Czervik from "Caddyshack" -- "My arm, it's broken."

Truthfully, Simms appears willing to take on the tall challenge, even embracing it. After all, Simms engineered the Vols' lone touchdown drive in relief of Bray in the 20-12 loss to Georgia last Saturday.

"I had confidence going into the game even though it was so sudden like that," Simms told reporters earlier this week. "I think the biggest thing was it gave a lot of my teammates confidence in me, just seeing that I was ready and prepared and I was ready to go as quickly as it did happen. I have confidence because I played well against a lot of good teams last year, and I hope to continue that."

Of course, with the way the Vols are running the ball (or better stated, the way the Vols AREN'T running the ball), the entire Simms family -- dad and former Super Bowl MVP Phil, brother and former NFL player Chris and even possible distant-distant-distant cousin and NFL running back Billy -- could be on the field Saturday and it likely won't make a difference.

Not against an LSU defense that is powerful and empowered. The Tigers are so confident that SEC player-of-the-year candidate and possible Heisman dark horse Tyrann Mathieu took to Twitter and announced his intentions clearly and forcefully.

Mathieu, the Tigers' playmaking cornerback dubbed the "Honey Badger" because he takes what he wants, tweeted, "No. 21 catches nothing tomorrow," in clear defiance of Tennessee wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers.

And who's to doubt the Honey Badger, considering LSU's closest win has been by 13 points despite playing four teams ranked in the top 20. Heck, LSU is so supremely confident right now that some fan allegedly put an LSU cape on Nick Saban's statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium this week.

Which brings us to the Red Elephant in the SEC meeting room at the halfway point of the season. Yes, the SEC is the best football conference in the country, but is any other team in the league within double digits of Alabama or LSU?

Sure, everyone in the country is stoked for the Alabama-LSU showdown in the first Saturday in November, but the avalache of tail whippings leading into that national semifinal has been stunning.

Look at it this way: Other than Rogers, which healthy Vols player in the lineup today would start for LSU or Alabama? Maybe offensive tackle JaWuan James? Maybe.

And that's as much a testament to LSU and Alabama as it is an indictment on a Tennessee roster that obviously is strained for experience and depth. And the Vols are far from alone in their inconsistency.

Sure, a lot of it has to do with the turnover at quarterback -- which is why the next two teams behind LSU and Alabama are Arkansas and Georgia, each of which has a standout quarterback. Be it injury (UT's Bray and Florida's John Brantley), ineffectiveness (South Carolina and Ole Miss), inexperience (Auburn, Kentucky and Vandy) or some unknowns (Mississippi State's inexplicable struggles with senior Chris Relf), the top four teams in the league are the ones happily locked into the same quarterback plan this morning that they had a month ago.

Excuses, however, can come easily, while sympathy is hard to locate in the nation's best football league.

"Nobody's going to feel sorry for Tennessee. That's what I told the team," UT coach Derek Dooley said this week.

Certainly not the Honey Badger. The Honey Badger doesn't care.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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