KNOXVILLE -- A lively start for the University of Tennessee football team slowly transformed into a demoralizing finish and a 38-7 defeat.
The reason for it was simple to explain.
"Not a real complex game there," Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said after top-ranked LSU outscored his team 21-0 in the second half of the Southeastern Conference contest Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
"They pounded us. I don't know any other way to say it."
UT remains winless in the SEC with a trip to second-ranked Alabama looming next Saturday. The Tigers played to their ranking in the second half with drives of 12, 16 and 10 plays that ate up nearly 22 minutes of the clock. LSU had 222 yards to UT's 66 and finished with 260 yards rushing on 52 carries.
"We came into a big-time venue and we took the field with the enthusiasm that depicts the environment," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I felt like our guys did what they needed to do."
The Vols made it difficult in the first half. The teams were even with 64 yards rushing apiece, and UT had a 173-161 advantage in total offense. A few mistakes a crucial times killed the Vols, though.
LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne provided the first with an electric interception of UT quarterback Matt Simms, who was filling for injured starter Tyler Bray. Claiborne, the Tigers' less-heralded corner who plays opposite Tyrann Mathieu, picked off a pass intended for Da'Rick Rogers and returned it 89 yards to UT's 5. On UT's next drive, safety Eric Reid played center field and intercepted Simms' throw to Rajion Neal on a post pattern.
"I played terrible," said Simms, the senior who finished 6-of-20 passing for 128 yards. "Simple as that. Obviously I was looking forward to this game, but both interceptions in the first half were just terrible decisions. They made me pay for it."
The Vols had a 7-yard loss on a pitch play to speedy freshman Devrin Young that set up LSU with excellent field position for its second touchdown before UT's lone scoring drive.
Tailback Tauren Poole finished with 70 yards on 19 carries for the Vols, who entered the game with minus-29 rushing yards in SEC losses to Florida and Georgia. The senior had a crucial mistake on a promising first-quarter drive around midfield, though, when he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for tossing the ball at Mathieu.
"Where I get really frustrated is when we make mistakes that have nothing to do with the opponent," Dooley said. "That really upsets me. Some of the mistakes we made were because they have a really good guy who gets us. We probably made more mistakes out there than we should have."
The Vols had little chances to make any offensive mistakes in the second half with the Tigers controlling possession. UT's defense struggled to get off the field. After holding LSU to just one third-down conversion in six first-half attempts, the Tigers were good on their next five in running away with the game.
"We fought, but I think you've got to get some of those third-down stops," Dooley said. "The dagger play was third-and-7 [on LSU's second possession of the second half]. We were down 17 at that point. If you can get the ball back and cut it to two scores, you're still fighting.
"That was a bad play, and some third-and-5s we just couldn't win on the perimeter. They throw a stop route and their guy is better than our guy. Eventually they just wear you down."
Said defensive back Prentiss Waggner: "It was pretty demoralizing. I think we let up. We got pretty soft on the front side and the back end. Seeing that was pretty frustrating."
LSU tailback Spencer Ware had 80 yards on 23 carries, and quarterback Jordan Jefferson who came off the bench to provide a spark to the Tigers and headaches for the Vols. Jefferson, a senior in his third game back from a suspension, came in as a change of pace for starter Jarrett Lee and ran for 73 yards on 14 carries.
"I liked using both quarterbacks," Miles said. "I think that's what's best, what we need to do, and I think both guys do different things, and we like to do that. We will continue to do that. There is a want for both guys to have success and have team success."
Lee finished 10-of-14 passing for 115 yards and two scores. With UT focusing on stopping LSU's physical ground attack, the Tigers took advantage of one-on-one matchups with receivers Rueben Randle (86 yards on five catches) and Odell Beckham.
"They just killed us, period," said UT defensive lineman Malik Jackson. "I don't really know what to say. First half, we came out great, knew what we were doing. Second half, they just did what they wanted to do. They just ran the ball and we just couldn't stop it."