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October 1, 2010It's another week and another new challenge for Derek Dooley and his Vols as they leave the nest for the first time this season. After four-straight home games to start the year, the youthful Vols travel to one of the SEC's toughest venues as they battle LSU and the league's most productive defense. So what's key for the Vols in the opening game of this brutal month? Here's four things in our weekly Cheat Sheet.
1. Don't let Peterson touch it - LSU's offense has been a huge struggle. The Tigers are 11th in the SEC in total offense at 299.8 yards a game. Their passing game is dead-last at 110 yards a game. The Tigers are last in first downs meaning they haven't driven the ball consistently. Which is what Tennessee must make the try do to. They must force the Tiger offense to go the long way. And that's why it's a must that they play keep away from kick and punt returner Patrick Peterson. Peterson has 2 punt returns for touchdowns. He's averaging 28.1 yards a punt return and 31.7 yards a kickoff return. Tennessee's special teams has been anything but special. Saturday night they must be terrific and it starts with Chad Cunningham not giving Peterson a chance to return something.
2. First downs - The Vols are 10th in first downs, and LSU leads the conference in fewest first downs surrendered. The Tiger defense has only allowed 16 third-down conversions this season. And everyone is fully aware of the Vols' third down struggles. A week ago, the Vol defense played 92 plays. And in the second half of their last three games, the offense has had 19 possessions (excluding overtime) and 14 of them have lasted less than 2 minutes on the game clock. Tennessee must move the sticks and try to keep the defense off the field.
3. Survive the start - With half of the Vols roster having never been on a college road trip, how does this young team react on the road for the first time? It's a first for many and Tiger Stadium has certainly chewed up its fair share of opponents through the years. Tennessee has been a good starting team, outscoring their opponents 36-10 in the first quarter. The Vols have actually scored on their first possession in 3 of the first 4 games and they have forced 3 punts and a missed field goal defensively on the opponents' opening possessions. LSU has been terrific defensively in the first quarter having not given up a point since week 4 last year against Mississippi State. Tennessee must manage the start of the game. They can ill afford to fall behind early.
4. Protect the ball - Last week, the Vols played their first turnover-free game. They will need another this week. LSU is second in the SEC with 11 takeaways (5 forced fumbles and 6 interceptions). Points will be at a premium Saturday for both offenses. The Vols cannot get away with giving the ball away. Protecting the football is the first offensive goal every week for the offense. It's recited in the maxims every week. It's a must Saturday afternoon.