KNOXVILLE — All that talk about LSU’s superiority in depth, size and speed wasn’t playing well with Tennessee sophomore defensive lineman Marlon Walls.
Yes, the top-ranked Tigers might have just beaten Walls and his Vols teammates 38-7 on Saturday afternoon with the kind of dominating performance that reeks of mismatch.
And UT coach Derek Dooley seemed willing to admit as much, noting, “They have a lot of good football players. Height, weight, speed, athleticism. Over time it gets tough.”
But Walls wasn’t buying.
“I don’t think it was us wearing down,” he said, though statistics showed LSU outgaining the Vols 222-56 after the break.
“I think it was just ‘want to.’ Like Coach Dooley said, it was a test of our manhood. In the first half, we did an OK job. Then we relaxed. We knew what was coming. We have got to get on it and change it now.”
The mantra is the same every week. After a 33-23 loss at Florida a month ago, UT senior linebacker Austin Johnson said, “We’ve got to come out with a little more intensity, a little more focus, make sure we get a stop on the first drive.”
After last week’s loss to Georgia, defensive lineman Daniel Hood said, “[Georgia] started out 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions. That’s embarrassing.”
Now the Vols are 0-3 in the SEC for the second year in a row. Last year they started out 0-5 before knocking off Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky down the stretch to finish 6-6 and earn a bowl bid.
But a home game against the Rebs has been replaced this season by a road game at Arkansas. And before that game comes on Nov. 12, UT must still travel to Alabama this Saturday before hosting South Carolina on Oct. 29.
“You can’t win the game against the No. 1 team in the country if you make mistakes, and we made a lot of mistakes,” said senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson. “You’ve got to play physical, tough, smart football for four quarters, and we didn’t.”
It wasn’t all on the defense, of course.
Senior quarterback Matt Simms — filling in for the injured Tyler Bray — said of his two interceptions, “I played terrible, as simple as that.”
Simms also said of the Vols’ second-half offensive woes, which included just 56 yards and four first downs, “Halftime adjustments. They made more than us.”
And if the offense can’t stay on the field for more than 2:47 of the fourth quarter, the defense is probably going to wear down, as it has now against both Georgia and LSU.
“Coach [Justin] Wilcox did a great job of preparing us,” Walls said. “We give up one big play and ... and ... we kind of fall apart. We let 100,000 people down tonight, and we’ve got to quit doing that. I don’t think it was wearing down. I think it was ‘want to.’”
If nothing else, it’s a trend no one in the Big Orange Nation will want to continue.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...