No. 1 LSU Scores Largest-Ever Win Over Tennessee
LSU Sports Interactive
(NOTE: Three LSU passes that were originally ruled to be laterals have been corrected to be forward passes, including the 14-yard touchdown from Lee to Shepard. The game story and box score have been corrected accordingly.)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Morris Claiborne's 89-yard interception return sparked the No. 1-ranked LSU football team to its largest margin of victory in the 32-game series with Tennessee, 38-7, on Saturday in Neyland Stadium.
The Tigers, who have won four road games and defeated four ranked opponents this season, led 17-7 at halftime and outgained Tennessee in the second half, 222-61, while outscoring the Vols 21-0.
In the end, LSU extended its consecutive double-digit margins of victory to a school-record-tying eight dating back to 2010.
The Tigers return home to face Auburn on Oct. 22. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CT at Tiger Stadium.
LSU (7-0, 4-0 SEC) completed its SEC East slate unblemished, as the Tigers won all three contests against the opposite division and have won a school-record six-straight over the past two seasons.
Tennessee fell to 3-3 overall and 0-3 in SEC play, while LSU won for the ninth time in series history.
Claiborne helped LSU break open a scoreless game late in the first quarter with the big return, the third-longest in school history. Two plays later, Rueben Randle caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Lee, and the rout was on.
Lee finished 13-of-17 passing for 138 yards and three touchdowns, while backup Jordan Jefferson first entered early in the second quarter and finished 1-of-3 passing for eight yards. Jefferson was effective on the ground and gave the Vols defense fits, gaining 73 yards on 14 carries with a 3-yard touchdown.
Running back Spencer Ware led the Tigers ground game, as he scored both running and receiving -- a first for the Tigers since Early Doucet in 2006 against Tulane. Ware had 80 yards on 23 carries and caught a 13-yard screen pass for a touchdown from Lee. In the fourth quarter, Russell Shepard scored his first touchdown of the season on a 14-yard catch from Lee in the fourth quarter. He added two carries for 19 yards.
Randle was Lee's go-to target, catching five passes for 86 yards and the score.
The Tigers controlled the clock, holding Tennessee to only three second-half drives and maintaining a 15-minute advantage in time of possession.
LSU continued to protect the ball well. The Tigers have reached 16-consecutive quarters without a turnover. Meanwhile the LSU defense had two interceptions against Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms, who was filling in for injured starter Tyler Bray.
Simms was 6-of-20 passing for 128 yards, including completions of 44, 38 and 21 yards. Running back Tauren Poole had 19 carries for 70 yards and the Vols only score. Da'Rick Rogers had three catches for 63 yards.
LSU won the toss and deferred its decision until the second half, while LSU's James Hairston kicked off toward the north endzone to start the game.
The teams traded punts on the first six possessions, with only 4-of-10 passes completed and four first downs. Penalties on both sides stalled drives, as Tennessee was flagged for a personal foul near midfield and a false start on fourth-and-1. LSU had a first down run in Tennessee territory by Michael Ford called back for holding downfield.
Late in the first quarter, Tennessee broke the offensive ice when receiver Rajion Neal started the drive with a 38-yard catch from Simms to the LSU 42. The play was initially ruled incomplete, but video review showed the receiver tip-toe the right sideline with the ball under his control.
However, LSU made the next big play when Simms looked deep on next play but was intercepted by Claiborne. Claiborne returned his eighth career pickoff 89 yards to the Tennessee 5, where Lee connected with Randle over the middle for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. LSU led 7-0.
After bobbling the ensuing kickoff in the endzone, Tennessee started its drive at the 11. The Tigers defense picked the perfect time for its first stop behind the line of scrimmage, as Devrin Young was dragged down by defensive end Barkevious Mingo at the Vols 4. A 42-yard punt was returned 10 yards by Odell Beckham Jr., and LSU was set to strike again.
From the Tennessee 36, Lee started the drive with a 12-yard strike to Randle along the right sideline for a first down. Jefferson entered for the first time and gained nine yards to the 14, but was sacked after gaining a first down. With the play clock running down and Jefferson in the game on third-and-11 from the 13, Tennessee decided to call timeout.
The break allowed Miles to put Lee under center. Lee recognized the blitz and dumped off a screen to Ware who got perfect blocks by Randle and left tackle Chris Faulk, and scampered untouched for his first touchdown catch of his career.
Drew Alleman's PAT gave LSU a 14-0 lead with 10:01 left in the half.
The Vols answered the score with its most productive drive of the half, advancing 80 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown. A 44-yard catch and run by Rogers put Tennessee at the LSU 34, where Poole ran six-straight times to the LSU 8. On third-and-goal, Simms' pass to DeAnthony Arnett went wide at the 2-yard line. However, Tyrann Mathieu was flagged for pass interference, and Poole scored on the next play.
Tennessee cut the deficit to 14-7 with 2:24 left in the half.
Beckham Jr. returned the ensuing kickoff 34 yards, giving the Tigers another chance to score before the half. Ware rushed for 11 yards on first down before Lee found Randle with only one receiver to beat along the right sideline. After 45 yards, Randle was bumped out of bounds at the Tennessee 10. On second-and-goal, Lee waited for Deangelo Peterson to beat his defender across the field and then fired a strike that was bobbled and then caught by the tight end at the 1.
Jefferson's sneak on third down came up short and LSU settled for a two-score lead going into halftime after an 18-yard field goal by Alleman.
Behind two short-field scores and the field goal following a 65-yard drive to end the half, LSU led 17-7.
The Tigers focused on execution at halftime and it showed on the first offensive series. LSU methodically dissected the Tennessee defense for a 12-play, 66-yard drive that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run by Ware. Jefferson started the drive and ran the Tigers to the Tennessee 25, where Lee took over on third-and-5. With LSU's play clock winding down, Tennessee called timeout as head coach Derek Dooley realized he had 12 men on the field.
The break again allowed LSU to setup the perfect play, as Lee played pitch and catch with Randle against man-to-man defense for an 11-yard catch to the 14. A 7-yard catch by Beckham Jr. and a face mask penalty gave the Tigers first-and-goal at the 4.
Ware's second score put the Tigers ahead 24-7 with 7:53 to play in the third quarter.
Another nail in the Vols' coffin went in slowly, as Jefferson paced a 16-play, 99-yard drive that lasted 8:44 and ended when the quarterback ran for a 3-yard touchdown. The length of the drive tied the longest in school history, most recently accomplished against North Texas in 2005.
With 8:55 remaining in the game, LSU led 31-7.
After Tennessee turned the ball over on downs in LSU territory, Lee re-entered and started another long drive that ended in a 14-yard touchdown catch by Shepard on fourth-and-4. The Tigers didn't attempt a pass until the final play of the 6:08 drive.
The announced crowd was 101,822.