‘Smokey Grey’ Vols smoke LSU in most impressive win of Heupel era

AP photo by Gerald Herbert / Tennessee running back Jabari Small (2) carries for a long gain during the first half of Saturday's SEC matchup of AP Top 25 teams at LSU. Small rushed for 127 yards on 22 carries, including two touchdowns, as the No. 8 Vols beat the No. 25 Tigers 40-13.

BATON ROUGE, La. — The Tennessee Volunteers showed up at Tiger Stadium wearing grey and left LSU's home awash in orange.

Absolutely smoking in their "Smokey Grey" uniforms, the No. 8 Vols made their first trip to Louisiana since 2010 a memorable one Saturday afternoon by thrashing the No. 25 Tigers 40-13 before an announced sellout of 102,321 stunned and sun-splashed fans. Tennessee easily produced its most comprehensive and resounding performance of the Josh Heupel era, collecting the program's most lopsided road victory over a ranked opponent since thumping No. 12 Alabama 41-14 at Birmingham's Legion Field in 1995.

"The work and the effort and the preparation that our players have put in is what led to this, and it's our staff, too," Heupel said after Tennessee improved to 5-0 for the first since 2016. "They do a great job with their consistency and giving our players a great plan, but I've said before that we're a long way away from playing our best football, and I still say that today.

"There is a lot we can get better at, and we'll need to do that next week, but the thing that I love about this program is that everybody comes to compete every single day and they enjoy doing that together."

Next week, of course, is a visit from Alabama, the longtime rival Tennessee has yet to defeat under 16th-year Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.

The Vols, who are 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play, didn't reach their nation-leading average of 559.25 yards per game but still compiled 502 to overwhelm the hosts. Tennessee sixth-year senior quarterback Hendon Hooker did nothing to hurt his Heisman Trophy hopes, completing 17 of 27 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing 10 times for 56 yards.

Hooker even bounced back from his hardest hit this season, which occurred moments after releasing the ball in the second quarter.

"It was a clean tackle to the stomach," Hooker said with a smile. "I feel good."

Tennessee had lost five consecutive series meetings to the Tigers, including humbling 38-7 and 30-10 setbacks inside Neyland Stadium in 2011 and 2017. More than 15,000 Vols fans made the journey and were still making plenty of noise during the fourth quarter in an otherwise empty venue.

"It was amazing," Vols senior edge rusher Byron Young said. "Just on the way here, somebody sent me videos of a plane ride, and the whole plane was singing the 'Rocky Top' song. Just seeing the fan base when we were coming out and how they traveled over here — that's love. It made me feel like I was at home.

"I can't wait to see what they bring next week."

Hooker was quick to give a "shoutout to Vol Nation," while junior receiver Jalin Hyatt said, "To be honest, I didn't feel like we were on the road."

The second quarter opened with Tennessee leading 13-0 but with LSU (4-2, 2-1) having moved 21 yards out to its 46. A highly questionable third-and-1 play call in which quarterback Jayden Daniels threw the ball away was followed by a fourth-down stuff by the Vols, and Tennessee immediately went for the kill on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Hooker to Hyatt that made it 20-0.

"It was one of the sequences that helped change the way this game was played," Heupel said. "It was a two-possession game that we flipped to a three-possession game. It was a great throw and catch by Hendon and Jalen, and it was a huge play in the game."

Said Hyatt of his lengthy score: "As far as their coverage, it was something we were looking at. We knew we had a mismatch just as far as the safety. They were running man a lot, and we wanted to throw some shots on them. I'm glad that we executed."

That sequence was one of three times LSU went for it on fourth down and came away empty.

"We got behind by 10 quickly and couldn't match possessions at that time," Tigers coach Brian Kelly said. "We were within the analytical numbers, and I was keeping an eye on where we were from that position. Once you get behind against a team like that, you're listening both to those and your opportunities to score, so I felt like I needed to."

Tennessee took a 23-7 lead into halftime and went right back to work at the start of the third quarter, marching 76 yards in nine plays, with a Hooker 26-yard keeper to the LSU 14 followed by a touchdown pass over the middle to Hyatt on the ensuing play.

When Jabari Small walked into the end zone from 5 yards out at the 2:13 mark of the third quarter, the Vols were up a staggering 37-7.

"That was not what we planned or expected," Kelly said. "We expected to play much better than that."

It would be hard to write a better starting script for the Vols, as Will Brooks recovered a fumble by the Tigers' Jack Beck on the opening kickoff at the LSU 27. Tennessee would need five plays to cover those 27 yards, scoring 74 seconds into the game on Small's 1-yard run.

A 58-yard punt return by Dee Williams, who was making his Tennessee debut, put the Vols at the LSU 26 for their second possession. After an 8-yard completion from Hooker to Ramel Keyton on first down, a pair of Small carries were stuffed for no gain, resulting in a 35-yard Chase McGrath field goal that extended Tennessee's advantage to 10-0.

LSU drove to Tennessee's 14 on its ensuing possession, but a fourth-and-4 pass from Daniels to Kayshon Boutte came up a yard shy. The Vols then drove from their 11 to LSU's 21 before settling on a 38-yard McGrath field goal for a 13-0 lead.

"We beat ourselves and allowed them to get points quick on us," LSU safety Greg Brooks said. "Tennessee is a great team, but we beat ourselves."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.