Ranked Battle; #13 LSU at #8 Tennessee

Team Page: LSU :: Tennessee

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Erik Ainge said a bad ankle won't keep him out of Tennessee's matchup with LSU on Saturday. The eighth-ranked Vols also hope their quarterback won't be limited by the injury as they try to keep pace in the SEC title picture.

Ainge and the Vols (7-1, 3-1) look to continue their pursuit of Florida in the East Division when they face the No. 13 Tigers (6-2, 2-2), who boast one of the nation's toughest defenses.

Ainge hurt his right ankle during Tennessee's 31-24 win over South Carolina last week when he was tackled following a run. He finished the fourth-quarter drive while limping, but did not return.

X-rays and an MRI were negative, but Ainge said the ankle was sore and he was uncertain about the amount of practice time he was going to see this week.

Ainge, though, said he had ``no doubt'' he'd be ready for Saturday and believed the lack of preparation won't be a cause for concern.

``It's a day-to-day type thing. I'm feeling good. I'm not worried about if I miss a day of practice or two days of practice that I wouldn't be physically on my game,'' Ainge said. ``Most of my preparation game week is always mental, so if anything, I could do more of that which could end up helping me out.''

A healthy Ainge is crucial to Tennessee's offense. The Vols average 174 more passing yards than rushing, ranking 11th in the country with 288.1 passing yards per game.

Ainge ranks 11th in the nation with a 67.9 completion percentage, and coach Phillip Fulmer is less at ease about his quarterback not getting enough practice than Ainge is.

``A receiver going in and running a couple of crossing routes is whole lot different than a quarterback having to see all the fronts and coverages,'' Fulmer said. ``He needs to practice. Hopefully he'll be able to.''

Ainge was 21-of-29 for 254 yards and two touchdowns against the Gamecocks last weekend. After blowing a 14-point lead, the Vols scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, including Ainge's second touchdown pass of the day to Bret Smith, for the win.

Tennessee has won five straight since a 21-20 loss to Florida, which at 5-1 leads the East Division in the race for a spot in the conference championship game.

The Vols will likely need Ainge at his best against one of the nation's stingiest defenses. LSU is allowing 8.3 points per game - second only to top-ranked Ohio State - and has outscored opponents 287-66.

``I think, top to bottom, they are the best defensive team we've faced,'' Fulmer said. ``They have great safeties, outstanding linebackers and the best defensive front, which is saying a lot, considering who we have played.''

LSU is coming off a bye week following a 38-6 win over Fresno State two weeks ago. JaMarcus Russell, who's completed nearly 70 percent of his passes this season, went 15-of-19 for 210 yards and two touchdowns.

Alley Broussard and Trindon Holliday each rushed for a touchdown. Coach Les Miles was particularly satisfied with the effort by Broussard, who had a season-high 67 yards on just five carries.

The junior missed the 2005 season following reconstructive knee surgery and has been limited to 202 yards and four touchdowns in six games this season.

``He's obviously quicker, obviously more capable than he was at the beginning of the season and we look forward to getting him going, especially this last month,'' said Miles, who benched Broussard in a 49-0 win over Kentucky on Oct. 14. ``He ran fast and hard. He ran with purpose.''

Miles' team faces another tough SEC opponent as it tries to get its first road win in three tries this season. The Tigers lost to then-No. 3 Auburn and then-No. 5 Florida by a combined 30-13 in their two games away from Baton Rouge.

``Anytime that you play at home, there are advantages,'' Miles said, ``but I always enjoy taking a group of men and going into an opponent's stadium with an us-versus-them mentality. Some of the most satisfying Saturday afternoons and evenings can be held on the road.''

After the two relatively easy games against Kentucky and Fresno State, Saturday's contest begins a tougher stretch for LSU. The Tigers host 6-3 Alabama next week, and after a home matchup with 2-7 Mississippi, close the season at No. 12 Arkansas.

``This game is awfully important for this team,'' said Miles, whose squad has lost 11 of the last 13 meetings with Tennessee at Knoxville. ``We need to establish who we are in the (SEC) West, and again play ourselves into contention.''

The Vols defeated the Tigers 30-27 in overtime in the last meeting Sept. 26, 2005. Tennessee rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game with a 28-yard field goal in the final minutes and won on Gerald Riggs' one-yard touchdown run.

by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us

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