Rivalry Series: LSU vs. Tennessee

In College Football, General LSU, Rivalry on October 15, 2011 at 10:53 PM

I’m not sure what happened here. Some of this blog apparently got deleted. I’m working on adding more information so this conforms a little better to the rest of the series.

Overall records (updated after 2017 game)

Tennessee now leads the overall series, 20-10-3.
Tennessee leads in Knoxville, 11-4-1.
Tennessee leads in Baton Rouge, 8-4-2.
LSU leads 2-0 in Atlanta (SEC Championships in 2001 and 2007).
Tennessee leads 1-0 in Houston (the 1972 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl).

Longest winning. unbeaten streaks
Tennessee: winning streak, 10 (from 1934 to 1959); unbeaten streak, 13 (from 1934 to 1972).
LSU: winning streak, 5 (2006 to present).

Home/away streaks
UT @ LSU: 5, 1939-1952; unbeaten, 6, 1939-1964
LSU @ UT: 3, 2006-2017
UT at home: 9, 1934-1983; unbeaten, 10, 1925-1983
LSU at home: None

Biggest wins
Tennessee’s biggest win in the series was 28-0 in 1940.
LSU’s biggest win in the series was 38-7 in 2011, and that was the most points LSU scored in regulation in a win. LSU’s previous best win (and previous most points scored in regulation) was a 34-9 win, also in Knoxville, in 1988, the Tigers’ first win there.
(LSU’s only shutout win over Tennessee was 7-0 in 1933.)

Two of the three highest winning point totals overall were both in very close games. The 2000 overtime game (38) was LSU’s highest point total in a win, and Tennessee’s highest point total was in a 45-39 win in 1989. LSU tied the total of 38 in regulation in 2011.

In the 24 games between 1925 and 1993, LSU had only 3 wins and 3 ties against Tennessee. The teams did not play for the following 6 seasons, but since there has been more consistent play between the two (2000-2011), LSU has won 6 times in 8 games.

Results and narrative from 2000 to present:

2000—Baton Rouge–LSU, 38-31 (OT)
2001—Knoxville–Tennessee, 26-18
2001—Atlanta–LSU, 31-20
2005—Baton Rouge–Tennessee, 30-27 (OT)
2006—Knoxville–LSU, 28-24
2007—Atlanta–LSU, 21-14
2010—Baton Rouge–LSU, 16-14
2011—Knoxville-LSU, 38-7
2017—Knoxville-LSU, 30-10

Please see this blog for videos. I didn’t want to paste them all below.

Although it was for a stretch there, this series isn’t generally played often, but there have certainly been some memorable games even going back to Nick Saban’s first season at LSU.

One of the defining games of that first season was an overtime win over #11 Tennessee. LSU really needed a win after losing by 17 on the road against a ranked Auburn team and then coming home and suffering an upset to UAB. If LSU loses that game for a third consecutive loss going into the Florida game, things would have looked pretty bleak. At the time, it was only LSU’s fourth win over the Vols in history (in 25 games).

So even though they got blown out by Florida anyway, I still think that Tennessee win was very helpful to the team going forward. After Florida, the Tigers won four in a row, becoming bowl eligible for only the fourth time in 12 seasons.

The end of the game was interesting. LSU had a 46-yard field-goal attempt blocked, leading to the overtime period. The Tigers scored a touchdown on their first play in overtime. After two plays of their possession, Tennessee had the ball at the LSU 11 with a first down. On second down, the Vols advanced the ball to the LSU 4, but the Tiger defense held, giving LSU the win after two incomplete passes.

There was a fairly close loss in early 2001 at Tennessee, but LSU once again didn’t start out that season well and Tennessee was in the top 10.

Tennessee was poised to go to the national championship game when they (surprisingly) met the Tigers again in the SEC Championship game. I say surprisingly because LSU started SEC play 2-3. The Tigers were not intimidated though. After facing an early 17-7 deficit, they would outscore the Volunteers 21-3 in the second half, finally putting the game out of reach with a touchdown to go up 11 with just over two minutes remaining.

Les Miles’ first home game was actually a loss to Tennessee. It didn’t really inspire a lot of confidence, I have to say. LSU got out to a 21-point lead (seemingly picking up where they had left off in 2001) and then it seemed they were trying to coast to victory. They knocked out the Tennessee starting QB, which seemed like a good thing at the time, but it wasn’t. The Tigers managed only three more points before losing in OT. LSU transfer Rick Clausen came off the bench to lead a second-half comeback to finally win a game in Tiger Stadium. (He did start one game for LSU that the Tigers eventually won, but he was removed from that game after a poor first quarter.)

In 2006, LSU got revenge by winning with a touchdown in the final seconds at Tennessee. After another somewhat exciting SEC title game in 2007 (again won by LSU), the Vols’ next trip to Tiger Stadium appeared to be a win just like the last one had been…

When I saw the snap in the waning seconds of the LSU @ Tennessee game in 2010, I turned off my television in disgust. After angrily pacing around and grabbing some refreshment (I do not recall if it was an alcoholic one), I turned the TV back on in time to see what appeared to be an emotional Tennessee player, but he didn’t seem happy. Then I saw what seemed to be a replay of an LSU touchdown.

Not from the game I saw. The only LSU touchdown in the game I saw was a long run from about midfield by LSU QB Jordan Jefferson. At some point I saw the score. I wear glasses, so I questioned whether the “6” I saw was really a 6 or whether it was the “0” I had seen when I was turning the TV off.

This video is the first time I saw the whole thing. In the video, I also noticed for the first time the LSU band was playing the fan-favorite song Neck after the game ended. (When this song is played, the fans say something you can’t quite make out in the video… let’s just say it’s not suitable to type out here.)

Even if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, after the errant snap I mentioned, you can see Derek Dooley apparently trying to get off the field and take his team with him. Curiously though, the officials (often the first people off the field) hung around. More than a minute elapsed before there was any suggestion that there might be another play. Another 30 seconds later, and the call was finally made. Illegal participation on Tennessee. When the announcers count them, there were 13 Tennessee players.

Dooley’s explanation of events is possibly even more fascinating. He mentions that CBS was trying to interview him and he was glad he didn’t do that.

Incidentally, Dooley had given LSU just about all they could handle as the head coach of Louisiana Tech the season before. The Bulldogs only lost to the #9 Tigers by 8 points. That’s one reason I always sort of defended him, but he did seem out of his depth in other SEC venues at times.

Back to the end of the game, I understand at this point that Miles had lost communication with the press box. Miles had retrieved his headset, but I guess Gary Crowton, who was then the offensive coordinator, was on his way downstairs. I don’t think coaches normally hang around a press box when a game appears to be over. Anyway, the way Miles discusses it, he made the play call himself. The next snap was not made until nearly three minutes after the previous one.

This was Les’s rambling after the game. Unlike Dooley, he doesn’t get around to describing the end of the game until about 3:45.

He was responsible for the final play call (the successful one) but didn’t have a good answer as to why so many seconds ticked off the clock before the illegal participation.

One of the reporters mentions toward the end that LSU had a lot more yards than Tennessee but (obviously) had trouble turning yards into points and also committed four turnovers. Sounds familiar.

LSU blew out Tennessee the following year in Knoxville, and the two have not played one another since. It’s unclear when they will play again, but no sooner than 2016 (unless somehow Tennessee and LSU both make the SEC championship game or the same bowl/playoff game next season).

Comments after the 2011 game, including discussion of prior history

Looks like it’s time for the next game between the two to be in Atlanta. I’m not sure how the addition of Texas A&M might alter things, but if the same rotation is maintained, the next regular-season game in this series would be in 2015 in Baton Rouge.

Today’s game ended a streak of 4 straight games in the series that were decided by one possession, and the winning score in three of those four had come with 9 seconds or fewer on the clock.

Speaking of close games, I also wanted to add a note about another game that was extremely close, the 14-13 Tennessee win in Knoxville in 1959. LSU had won 19 games in a row. This included 11 the year before when the Tigers their first major-poll national championship and the only one LSU would have until 2003 (and only AP poll title until 2007).

In the previous week, #1 LSU had knocked off #3 Ole Miss, 7-3, in Billy Cannon’s famous punt return. I found this highlight video. Skip to about 1:45 if you want to see the punt return.

Anyway, strong defense was much more the norm back then, and once again, LSU had to take advantage of one of its few opportunities for points, and once again, the man the Tigers relied on was Billy Cannon, who would win the 1959 Heisman Trophy. When LSU scored what could have been the tying touchdown early in the 4th quarter, they chose to go for two points and give the ball to Cannon. I could not find the video, but if you watched the game today, they showed the stop by Tennessee. Tennessee had nothing but let-down after the game, losing their next three to finish 5-4-1. LSU’s second loss of the season would come in a Sugar Bowl rematch against Ole Miss.

This is a summary by the Knoxville News Sentinel of the 1959 LSU-Tennessee game.

Today was LSU’s first trip to Knoxville as the #1 team since then. (LSU had never been #1 in the AP poll before 1958). Tennessee has only beaten a #1 team one other time, in 1985 against Bo Jackson’s Auburn Tigers, also in Knoxville. Today’s game was one of 9 losses to a #1 team.

The only time I can find that Tennessee was #1 when playing LSU was 1939 in Baton Rouge. The Vols won, 20-0, and would finish the regular season not only undefeated but without having given up a point. However, for some unknown reason, Texas A&M took over the #1 spot two weeks later and ended up winning the AP poll for that year. After the final poll, #2 Tennessee was finally scored upon by USC in the Rose Bowl. The #3 Trojans won, 14-0, to finish 8-0-2. Tennessee finished 10-1, and LSU finished 4-5. Texas A&M would win the Sugar Bowl over #5 Tulane to finish 11-0. #4 Cornell also finished undefeated and untied that year, so Tennessee may have lost #1 simply because of jockeying between the voters for the four top-5 undefeated teams before the bowls.

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