Vols’ disastrous season continues with loss to No. 20 LSU
KNOXVILLE — When it rains, it pours.
That’s been Tennessee’s football season to a T. It continued Saturday night in a 30-10 loss to No. 20 LSU, even before the real monsoon washed through Neyland Stadium.
Trusted return man Marquez Callaway was the culprit this time. The sophomore handed the Tigers 10 of those 30 points, fumbling two punts and giving the ball to LSU deep in Vol territory.
The first slipped through his fingertips, giving LSU great field position at the UT 15 with 8:46 remaining in a scoreless first quarter. Luckily for Callaway, the Vol defense forced its third consecutive three-and-out to begin the game, holding LSU (8-3, 5-2 SEC) to just a 30-yard Connor Culp field goal.
“We had some early turnovers, which you don’t like to have any turnovers,” UT interim head coach Brady Hoke said. “Difficulty a little bit in the punt game with the ball, left-foot punter, wind and things that were there.
“Because, Callaway No. 1, is one of the best kids you ever want to coach and No. 2, he’s a guy that works the hardest at his craft, and I felt bad for him, but he bounced back and that was the thing that was important.”
The Vol offense took arguably its best drive of the season 14 plays, milking over seven minutes off the clock, but had only three points to show for in a 45-yard Aaron Medley field goal.
With the game knotted at 3 and a fourth three-and-out from the Vol defense, things were looking up for UT (4-7, 0-7), until they weren’t.
Callaway’s second muffed punt bounced off and behind him, allowing Michael Divinity Jr., to fall on the loose ball and set the Tigers up at the UT 19.
Hoke credited the wind as a huge issue, which was announced 18 mph pre-game, as a result to Callaway’s struggles.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” said Hoke of the wind havoc. “If you go to practice and see him work and catching punts, and how he worked all week on the JUGS machine it because of the left-footed punter and the spin being different.”
Three plays later, Darrel Williams faked out everyone and waltzed into the end zone for six and a 10-3 advantage. The Vols attempted another field goal, this one from 46 yards out, on the ensuing drive, but it wasn’t anywhere close as the rain started falling heavily.
LSU capitalized three plays later, when quarterback Danny Etling trotted into the checkerboards for a 13-yard run to put the Tigers up 17-3.
After Etling put LSU up two scores — largely due to Callaway’s special teams miscues, which is the unit that recently fired UT head coach Butch Jones called the Vols’ specialty — the 6-foot-2, 199-pounder made up for his carelessness on the next possession.
He caught two of Jarrett Guarantano’s three passes on a scoring drive before the half. The first was a 26-yard pass he hauled in, tip-toeing the sideline to move the sticks on third down.
The next was the biggest, a pass he pulled in — even though the defender was all over him, getting called for defensive pass interference — and turned into a 46-yard touchdown before the half concluded to pull the Vols within seven.
Callaway’s bounce-back second quarter (two catches, 72 yards) after a disastrous start, was his best since the season-opener against Georgia Tech, where he hauled in four receptions for 115 yards and two scores.
“He was one of the hardest workers we have, in my opinion, in this program,” Hoke said. “I felt badly for him. The good thing is he bounced back.”
Callaway hobbled off in the fourth quarter, not putting pressure on his ankle and later walked back into the locker room.