Two teams with very different roads to the AP Top 25 square off on Saturday when No. 25 LSU faces No. 8 Tennessee in Baton Rouge, La.
Tennessee was deemed a Top 25 team after rolling in its season opener against Ball State, and the Volunteers (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) have continued to win to propel their way up the rankings.
Meanwhile, LSU began the season unranked and lost its season opener to Florida State, but the Tigers (4-1, 2-0) have won four games in a row and finally cracked the rankings this week.
The Volunteers are coming off an open date after defeating then-No. 20 Florida 38-33 two weeks ago.
“You’re only as good as your next one in this game,” Volunteers coach Josh Heupel said. “Your preparation, your competitive spirit all week (have to be consistent). There’s no way in this game you can just flip a switch on Saturday, show up and play the way that you want to.
“Preparation is everything. Our players have gotten so much better in that, and I expect them to handle the week the right way.”
The victory against the Gators was just Tennessee’s second in its past 18 meetings with Florida.
“Huge win for our fan base,” Heupel said. “I think our players reset last week and pushed forward in the things that we were asking them to do. … Bye week gives you a chance to physically reset and mentally reset a little bit.”
Heupel said star wide receiver Cedric Tillman, who missed the game against the Gators, underwent surgery to expedite the healing of his injured ankle.
“We’ll continue to see how it unfolds this week,” Heupel said.
As for LSU, coach Brian Kelly is gauging his team by its weekly progress regardless of the rankings.
“There’s probably 35 teams that could be in the Top 25, right?” he said. “It’s a judgment call.”
The four-game winning streak demonstrates progress, but the Tigers have had to overcome a 13-0 deficit against Mississippi State and a 17-0 deficit at Auburn last Saturday to win their SEC games.
LSU scored the final 21 points to beat Auburn and survived despite passing for just 85 yards.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels has left the last two games because of ailments. He sustained a lower back strain against New Mexico, and Kelly removed him last week because of knee soreness. Kelly said Daniels is fine this week.
The coach added that the ability to come back has been one of the team’s best traits, but it can’t afford to keep falling behind by double digits.
“We’re establishing character within the ranks,” Kelly said. “It’s pretty clear this team plays with great heart and they’ll fight, but we’re going to have to have better execution. We’re going to have to coach better and those things are going to have to be on display starting this weekend.
“Hopefully we’ve learned that our preparation is going to have to be so much better and then bring the heart, then bring that fight because you’re going to need that, too, but you can’t just rely on that and play sloppy football and expect to win these games.”
–Field Level Media