Wiedmer: LSU, Alabama way above rest

Wiedmer: LSU, Alabama way above rest

October 16th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

KNOXVILLE -- The chant began in the northeast corner of Neyland Stadium, not far from the University of Tennessee's football locker room.

"We want Bama!" they cheered lustily Saturday evening. "We want Bama!"

Trouble was, the fans chanting that refrain were clad in Louisiana State purple and gold rather than UT orange.

So even if it's the Big Orange traveling to Alabama this coming weekend, it's LSU that has Alabama on its mind. Then again, who can blame the Bayou Bengals' frenzied followers after their heroes walloped the Vols 38-7?

Sure, LSU must officially dispatch with visiting Auburn a few hours before the Crimson Tide are expected to crush the Volunteers this week. And the Southeastern Conference being the Southeastern Conference, we're supposed to believe that either UT or Auburn could pull an upset.

But who are we kidding here? This is a two-team league headed for a one-game Armageddon in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 5. And if you don't think at least a few folks in the SEC saw this coming, both the Tigers and Tide are off the week before that game.

And because UT has yet to play the Tide, the Vols were understandably uncomfortable picking a winner in a game that could unofficially crown the league's sixth straight national champ.

But UT safety Prentiss Waggner quickly said of the Tigers, "They're really good on offense, defense and special teams. Isn't that what a No. 1 team should be?"

Tennessee looks nothing like a No. 1 team these days as it falls to 3-3 overall and 0-3 in the SEC for the second straight season. Befitting a program that's had three different head coaches in four years, a program whose No. 1 quarterback, No. 1 receiver and top defensive back are all basically gone for the year (QB Tyler Bray might return for Kentucky, but former defensive back Jantzen Jackson took his troubled life to McNeese State), the Vols are a mess.

Or as UT coach Derek Dooley said, "It wasn't really a complex game. In the second half ... they pounded us. We weren't as good on the corners and we weren't really as good as them in the middle."

But, hey, the UT band was clearly better, especially when joined by Doc Severinsen, whose wonderful trumpet solos brough back the sometimes underappreciated brilliance of all his years backing up Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."

Yet Severinsen couldn't complete passes against the LSU secondary or tackle Tigers tailback Spencer Ware, who gashed the Vols for 84 yards and a touchdown.

To return to Dooley's quote that the Big Orange suffered a big hurt in the second half, so dominant was the LSU offense -- time of possession was 21:59 to 8:01 -- that UT touched the ball but twice.

Actually trailing the Vols 173 to 161 in total yardage at the half, LSU wound up outgaining UT by 166 yards in the final half: 222 to 56. And this from a UT team that deserved to win last year's game in Baton Rouge.

"Their guys are better than our guys," Dooley said. "Eventually they just wear you down. They've got a lot of good football players. Depth, size, speed."

The Vols would appear to be short in all three categories. Especially depth. Against a team as big, strong, talented and experienced as LSU, lack of depth almost always defeats you in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers controlled the football for all but 2:47 of the 15-minute final period.

"That was one of the most physical games I've ever played in," Vols freshman linebacker A.J. Johnson said. "We came out playing hard in the first half. Unfortunately, we didn't do the same in the second."

They've now worn down in the second half in all three SEC losses, arguably looking worse in each defeat in the final minutes.

As if to add insult to injury, LSU coach Les Miles said of his team's seventh win in seven outings, "That wasn't our best game, certainly, but we did what we needed to do to secure a victory."

And the Vols did what they needed to do to advance the Tigers toward Nov. 5 with a perfect record.

His postgame press conference done, Dooley said, "All right, on to Bama."

That he said it with far less enthusiasm than the LSU fans in the northeast corner of his stadium says almost as much about the current state of the UT program as Saturday's final score.