No. 8 Tennessee made its first trip to LSU in over a decade a memorable one as the Volunteers jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in a 40-13 win over the No. 25 Tigers. The victory snapped a five-game losing streak for Tennessee in the cross-division series and marked the program's first win over LSU since 2005.
Star quarterback Hendon Hooker led the way for Tennessee (5-0, 2-0 SEC) with 239 yards passing and another 56 rushing, and the Volunteers' oft-maligned defense also delivered in some key moments to help second-year coach Josh Heupel's club improve to 5-0. LSU's depleted offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Jayden Daniels, surrendering five sacks to a Tennessee unit that ranked 95th in total defense entering the day.
The Volunteers also capitalized on a series of LSU miscues, beginning on the opening play of the game when the Tigers' Jack Bech fumbled the kickoff, which led to a quick Tennessee touchdown. The Volunteers never looked back from there. LSU (4-2, 2-1) had the football in Tennessee territory trailing just 20-7 late in the first half, but Daniels was sacked on fourth down, which wound up leading to a 32-yard field goal from Tennessee's Chase McGrath on the last play of the first half.
Jabari Small ran for two touchdowns and totaled 127 yards on 22 carries for the Volunteers, and his 49-yard scamper in the middle of the fourth quarter helped slam the door as it flipped the field position and subsequently allowed Tennessee to run several minutes of clock.
Here are the takeaways from Tennessee's convincing SEC road win.
No Tillman, no problem
Tennessee played without star receiver Cedric Tillman for a second straight game as he recovers from an ankle injury suffered in Week 3 against Akron. Tillman caught 64 passes for 1,089 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and was off to a quick start in 2022 before the injury. But the Vols have managed a 2-0 start in SEC play without him as others have stepped up in his absence.
USC transfer Bru McCoy turned in another huge game as the former five-star prospect caught seven passes for 140 yards. McCoy racked up 70 yards after the catch while using his physical frame to battle for extra yards. McCoy has 12 catches for 242 yards over the last two games. Fellow receiver Jaylin Hyatt has also shined amid Tillman's absence. The junior caught four passes for 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Tigers, including a 45-yard bomb from Hooker that put Tennessee ahead 20-0 with 14:39 left in the second quarter. Hyatt now has 287 yards receiving and four touchdowns over his last three games.
LSU's offensive line takes step back
LSU starting left tackle Will Campbell missed the game after he was hospitalized Friday due to dehydration. Though only a true freshman, Campbell had established himself as a steady presence up front for the Tigers early this season. Then, in the second quarter, starting left guard Garrett Dellinger left the game with a knee injury.
Dellinger was already less than 100% healthy after undergoing surgery on a broken right hand last week. The attrition up front was evident as the Tigers struggled to establish the run game and failed to protect Daniels in key moments. LSU's trio of running backs Josh Williams, John Emery Jr. and Noah Cain totaled just 17 yards on 12 carries. The Vols outgained LSU 263-89 in sack-adjusted rush yards and had Daniels on the run throughout the day.
Vols' win sets up a seismic showdown
Breaking a five-game losing streak against LSU is one thing. Now, the Volunteers face the far more daunting task of ending a 15-game losing streak against Alabama. The top-ranked Crimson Tide are visiting Tennessee next week for the SEC on CBS Game of the Week, and it figures to be a showdown of seismic proportions.
It was a top-10 matchup six years ago, when the Volunteers were 5-1 and ranked No. 9 in Butch Jones' fourth season as coach. But the Crimson Tide crushed Tennessee 49-10 that day. Now, once again, Tennessee has a chance to host Alabama with both teams firmly in the SEC and national title races. Given the vulnerability Alabama showed in a 20-19 win at Texas earlier this season and the questions surrounding the health of Heisman Trophy quarterback Bryce Young's shoulder, Tennessee may be a trendy upset pick after what it showed against LSU.