Tennessee, sitting in the top 10 and yet to lose, enters the game as a slight favorite. Both teams could use a statement win. Here are five things LSU fans should know about Tennessee before kickoff.
Elite passing game
Tennessee’s passing attack has generated buzz all year — for good reason. The Vols rank third in the FBS in yards per pass, and according to GameOnPaper.com, they rank ninth in EPA/pass and 10th in success rate.
PFF ranks Hendon Hooker sixth among all quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks. Josh Heupel’s offense wants to push the ball down the field, and you’ll see Hooker take plenty of shots.
Tennessee spreads the field to a new level, lining receivers up just a few yards off the sideline. The entire field is utilized. The Vols will often bring a guy in motion and use more than five in pass protection.
Don’t underestimate the ground game.
Tennessee ranks 27th in rushing success rate. The tandem of Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright has combined for 440 yards. Hooker is also utilized on the ground. Subtracting sack yardage, he’s averaging 8.7 yards per carry.
Against Florida, nearly half of Tennessee’s runs went for four or more yards.
Because of Tennessee’s sheer volume of plays, LSU will see a fair amount in the run game. Matt House will need a plan that can account for the run while not allowing Tennessee to take the top of the defense.
The pass defense is shaky.
Tennessee’s secondary has been iffy this year. The Vols’ defense ranks 86th in passing success rate and 61st in EPA/pass.
Byron Young and Tyler Baron have provided a solid pass rush, but the unit still ranks 85th in sack rate. Last time out, Tennessee allowed 453 passing yards against a Florida offense that hadn’t exactly lit the world on fire.
Against Pittsburgh, defensive back Warren Burrell went down with an upper body injury and recently had season-ending surgery. Burrell started every game for the Vols in 2021.
Kamal Haden has been targeted more than any other corner on the roster but has a 49.1 passer rating when targeted, and opponents are completing less than 50% of their passes when throwing at him.
On the other side, Tennessee will rely on Christian Charles with Tomarian McDonald in the slot. The defense allows 7.0 yards per pass, which ranks 53rd in college football.
Excellent Tennessee players:
WR Jalin Hyatt
Hyatt is Tennessee’s leading receiver with 325 yards, a total that ranks sixth in the SEC.
This is a breakout year for Hyatt after starting just one game in 2021. He catches over 80% of the balls thrown his way and has added three touchdowns on the year. His 150.7 passer rating, when targeted, ranks third among SEC receivers.
Hyatt brings speed to the field and takes most of his snaps in the slot.
RT Darnell Wright
Wright was highly recruited out of high school. Now a veteran, he’s Tennessee’s best offensive lineman and has yet to allow a sack in 2022.
DE’s Byron Young and Tyler Baron
Young was expected to be one of the best edge rushers in the conference this year and has so far lived up to the hype.
He has just one sack but has racked up 18 pressures. Baron also has just one sack but has 13 pressures to his name.
Young and Baron will be a lot for LSU’s freshman offensive tackles. LSU struggled against some of Auburn’s top pass rushers, which is a point of concern entering the weekend.
Tennessee has a chance to make a statement.
Being ranked eighth in Josh Heupel’s second year is not something many expected. The Vols might not be able to compete with the best of the best, but they can play with anyone else.
A road game in the SEC West against a now-ranked LSU team is a big opportunity for a program that has lacked big wins this century. Tennessee is still waiting on the NCAA stuff to come down, but right now, things are good on Rocky Top and a win on Saturday would keep it that way.
I don’t think a loss invalidates anything that has happened at Tennessee to this point, but these are the games you need to win if you want to be taken seriously.