KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Help from your foes is even better than help from your friends, and LSU got plenty of it from Tennessee on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
Three Tennessee special teams miscues loomed largest in providing LSU with remarkably good field position on three scoring drives that the Tigers turned into 17 points.
“The turnovers that Tennessee had on punt return was probably the difference in the game,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said.
LSU’s first scoring drive began at the Tennessee 15 when Volunteers returner Marquez Callaway dropped a 47-yard Zach Von Rosenberg punt. LSU’s Mr. Everywhere, Russell Gage, was quick to pounce on the miscue.
The Tigers didn’t exactly make the most of the opportunity, going three-and-out. But any time you turn a 2-yard drive into points, it has to be considered a net win.
“We want touchdowns when we get the ball in that territory,” Orgeron said. “But I’m proud of our team.”
LSU did not look Callaway’s second gift in the mouth. The sophomore again had trouble tracking down a Von Rosenberg punt in the wind. It slipped through his hands and was recovered by LSU sophomore Michael Divinity at the Tennessee 19.
At that point, even Von Rosenberg couldn’t help but feel empathy for the player on the other end of his punts.
“I’m not going to lie, I feel a little bad for him,” Von Rosenberg said. “You hear his own fans screaming at him. I think the second one it was a little in his head. He was probably worried more about catching the football than he would normally.
“It was rough to watch. It’s such a costly error. For yourself and you’re teammates you’re extremely excited. It’s basically like having a 60-yard pass play down the field. But at the same time, he’s holding his head down, fans are screaming — it’s an unfortunate situation.”
Darrel Williams scored untouched from 10 yards out on the third play of the short drive.
No Volunteers could be blamed for their next special teams misadventure, but it still hurt them nevertheless.
Tennessee received the opening kickoff of the second half — seemingly a blessing for a team that trailed just 17-10 at halftime.
But the start of the second half coincided with a storm band blasting through Knoxville with monsoon-like conditions. On top of that, a bank of Neyland Stadium lights went out, making it nearly impossible for Tennessee’s kick returners to spot Cameron Gamble’s kickoff as it descended from the sky.
Callaway was the one who finally corralled the ball, but he was taken down at his own 3-yard line. LSU forced the three-and-out, then took over at midfield following Tennessee’s punt. Nine rushing plays later, Derrius Guice plowed into the end zone to put LSU up 23-10. That was all the breathing room the Tigers needed.
Good teams find ways to win, and bad teams find ways to lose. Both of those principles held true for the Tigers and Volunteers on a windswept Saturday night.