BATON ROUGE – Halloween is still more than three weeks away, but LSU defensive coordinator Matt House’s film sessions of Tennessee’s passing game must be frightful.
Call it Tennessee Terror. A matinee is scheduled here Saturday in Tiger Stadium at noon when the No. 8 Volunteers (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) play No. 25 LSU (4-1, 2-0 SEC).
The Tigers’ secondary just struggled with the likes of Auburn last week, and that would be scary for LSU fans even if this game was at night in Death Valley. Because Auburn’s passing offense is “Hansel and Gretel” to Tennessee’s “Saw,” or more recently, “Smile.”
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel was likely smiling when he watched the Auburn-LSU film. Auburn freshman quarterback Robby Ashford, who entered the LSU game averaging 93 yards passing a game, completed 19 of 38 for 337 with a 53-yard touchdown and completions of 61, 35, 31, 27 and 25 in a 21-17 home loss. LSU adjusted in the second half, but its secondary was slashed in the first half to the tune of 247 yards.
Kickoff Is Scheduled For Noon EST
Tennessee senior quarterback Hendon Hooker may as well be Freddy Krueger at the front door of LSU’s House. He leads the SEC and is sixth in the nation in passing efficiency at 183.7, completing 81 of 113 passes for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns with zero interceptions. He has also rushed 35 times for 175 yards and three touchdowns. Hooker finished first in the SEC and third nationally in efficiency last year at 181.4 as threw for 2,245 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Heupel’s quick death offense is the quickest draw in the West, the East and Middle America, usually snapping the ball with 20 seconds still on the play clock, and it is No. 2 in the nation in passing yards per game at 366.
Auburn? It was slow and painful to watch before LSU came to town. Auburn was No. 12 in the SEC and No. 102 in the nation in passing yards a game at 202 a game before LSU, which jumped it to No. 9 and No. 82 now at 229 yards a game.
A question to LSU coach Brian Kelly that included the words “coverage busts” on Monday struck a nerve.
“There were coverage busts,” he said. “Do you want me to call out some guys here publicly in front of you?”
Well, no, we saw the film. And it was more than one or two guys. So, let’s just say your secondary.
“We’ve addressed the issues,” Kelly said. “There are communication issues. We’ve been in a flux a little bit back there, so making sure there’s great communication. Not trying to do something that’s not part of our system.”
One communication strategy Kelly suggested may not work against Tennessee.
“Talk slower,” he said.
But better make sure the sentence is in before Tennessee snaps it.
Brian Kelly’s In His First Season With LSU
“They’re the fastest team in college football,” Kelly said. “Josh Heupel has done a great job in a very short period of time (in his second season), putting his stamp on this team.”
Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist John Adams, who has covered the SEC since the 1970s, said he has not seen a coach have as much of an impact as Heupel during a game since Steve Spurrier was at Florida.
Tennessee is No. 1 in the nation in total offense with 559 yards a game and No. 3 in scoring with 48.5 points a game.
“Hendon Hooker is big. He is physical. He can throw it. He runs it, and he has got playmakers,” Kelly said.
Jalin Hyatt leads the team with 23 catches for 325 yards. Cedric Tillman, who missed the Florida game with an ankle injury, has 17 catches for 246 yards, and Bru McCoy has 13 receptions for 211 yards. Tillman had surgery, and he is questionable for the LSU game.
“They’re electric at the slot with Hyatt,” Kelly said.
Tiger Stadium is sold out of its 102,321 seats even though packaged electricity will not be needed for a day game. But even with the treasured night time kickoff, Kelly knows his team needs more than atmosphere and the grit his team has showed in coming back from 13-0 and 17-0 deficits to beat Mississippi State and Auburn.
“I’m going to say this. It’s pretty clear this team plays with great heart, and they’ll fight,” he said. “But heart and fight will not win games against the opponents that we’re going to have over the next month or so. That’s not going to get it done against Tennessee, Florida or Mississippi or Alabama. We’re going to have to be better technically and tactically.”
And they’ll have to cover.