KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Long before Saturday’s game at Neyland Stadium turned into another LSU rout, Tennessee’s offense made a play late in the first quarter that had the chains moving and the trash talk blasting.
Quarterback Matt Simms dropped back and lofted a deep ball down the right sideline. Receiver Rajion Neal, covered by LSU stalwart Tyrann Mathieu, corralled a circus catch that was originally ruled an incompletion.
After an official review, Tennessee had a 38-yard gain to the LSU 42.
“We’re going to run by you all day,” LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne said he heard the Volunteers saying. “Somebody better make a play.”
On the very next snap, Simms again tested LSU’s ballyhooed secondary. This time, he went deep down the left sideline.
Claiborne rose to the occasion.
Leaping in front of Da’Rick Rogers to make his third interception of the season, Claiborne began the play that set in motion a 38-7 win.
Quickly transforming into a running back, he rumbled 89 yards all the way to the Tennessee 5.
The longest interception return by an LSU player in 23 years set up Jarrett Lee’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle for the game’s first score.
“They were talking a little noise, so we called it up as a defense and said they weren’t going to get a play like that against us again,” LSU safety Eric Reid said. “They wanted to put a knife in our defense. They tried to go for the deep ball, but Mo was able to pick it off.”
The way Claiborne shifted the momentum was reminiscent of the Shreveport native’s 99-yard kickoff return against West Virginia last month. LSU led the Mountaineers by only six before Claiborne kick-started a 47-21 rout.
His only regret? Not getting back to the end zone.
As he cut from the far sideline to the near side of the field, Claiborne appeared on course for six. Then, Simms forced him back toward the sideline, allowing Zach Rogers to make the tackle 5 yards short.
“The quarterback did not tackle me,” Claiborne said with a smile. “It was the receiver.”
Claiborne said whenever he sat down to review film of the play, he figured he would look at it from every angle trying to figure out where his shot at a touchdown went wrong.
“I know I’m going to be like, ￔMan, I should have done this. I should have done that,’” Claiborne said.
Not that anyone else was complaining.
“He may not have scored,” Reid said, “but he got us close enough to get it in.”