(7) Auburn (8-1) at Tennessee (4-5)|
Saturday, November 9, 12 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers will attempt to win their sixth
straight game on Saturday afternoon, as they visit the Tennessee Volunteers in
an SEC showdown.
Although Auburn began the season off the national radar, it has been able to
exceed even the most ambitious expectations in Gus Malzahn's first season as
head coach, as it sits at 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC, while rising all the
way to No. 7 in the latest AP poll. The Tigers recently defeated Arkansas on
the road, 35-17, and with a strong finish they could be in position for an at-
large bid to a BCS bowl game.
"We just feel very blessed to be 8-1," Malzahn said. "Just proud of this team.
They've come a long way and just need to keep improving."
Tennessee is also in year one of a new regime, but Butch Jones' inaugural
campaign has been an up-and-down one. With a 31-3 loss to Missouri last week,
the Vols dipped to 4-5 overall and 1-4 in conference, with all five of their
losses coming against Top-25 teams. Fortunately for UT, it has played well at
Neyland Stadium this season, winning four of five bouts.
"What separates teams, what separates people is the willingness to do the
things that nobody else wants to do," Jones said. "We're going through the
realities of building a good program, teaching the expectations. That's not
going to be a crutch. We expect to have competitive people that want to win
week in and week out."
Auburn leads the all-time series with Tennessee, 27-21-3, although the teams
haven't faced each other since 2009 when the Tigers won in Knoxville, 26-22.
Auburn's offense has been one of the SEC's most efficient (36.8 ppg, 494.9
ypg), thanks largely to its outstanding rushing attack, which ranks sixth in
nation in amassing 306.2 ypg.
There's plenty of touches to go around in the backfield, but Tre Mason handles
most of the load with 161 carries for 921 yards and an league-leading 13
touchdowns. Mason was named the SEC Player of the Week following his 168-yard,
four-touchdown performance versus Arkansas.
"What can I say? The guy gets stronger as the game goes on," offensive
coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "He gets stronger as the season goes on."
Cameron Artis-Payne (515 yards, five TDs) and Corey Grant (456 yards, four
TDs) also see their share of action, with the latter averaging nearly 10 yards
Nick Marshall has battled through some injuries this season, but has run the
offense to near perfection when healthy. He is completing nearly 60 percent of
his passes for 1,266 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, while
doing damage with his legs as well (520 yards, five TDs). Jeremy Johnson (28-
of-40, 408 yards, six TDs, two INTs) has performed in limited snaps, showing
he can be called upon in a pinch.
Sammie Coates (24 catches, 638 yards, five TDs) is a big play waiting to
happen out wide, as his average of 26.6 yards per catch is tops in the nation.
Defensively, Auburn ranks just 10th in the SEC in yards allowed per game
(398.9), but its bend-don't-break style has kept opposing teams out of the end
zone, as it ranks third in scoring defense (20.1 ppg). Foes score touchdowns
on just 43 percent of their trips to the red zone (13-of-30).
Chris Davis leads the team with 43 tackles, while Robenson Therezie (40
tackles, three INTs) anchors the secondary. The unit could be without pass-
rush specialist Dee Ford (9.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks), who is listed as questionable
for this clash as he nurses a knee injury.
As for Tennessee, its offense has struggled to get off the ground in Jones'
first season, ranking 10th in the league in both scoring (25.1 ppg) and
yardage (359.1 ypg), and with a freshman quarterback starting last week,
things were even worse as the team scored just three points and committed
Filling in for Justin Worley, who could miss the rest of the season with a
thumb injury, Joshua Dobbs made his first career start against Missouri, going
26-of-42 for 240 yards with zero touchdowns and two picks. Despite the
lackluster performance, Jones still took some positives away from the showing.
"He had some good experiences and some experiences we need to correct that he
doesn't need to have twice," Jones said. "The experiences that he gained
should continue to move him forward."
Raijon Neal tallied just eight yards on eight carries last week, but he is
still in the midst of a strong season with 771 yards and nine touchdowns.
Marlin Lane (397 yards, four TDs) has also been an effective runner for the
Alton "Pig" Howard (36 receptions, 344 yards, three TDs) and Marquez North (32
receptions, 436 yards, TD) headline a modest receiving corps.
The Tennessee defense has shown some big-play tendencies, forcing 18
turnovers, but the unit is still below average in the SEC in yielding 29.4
ppg and 429.3 ypg.
A.J. Johnson's 76 tackles are the most on the team, while Brian Randolph has
racked up 53 tackles and three interceptions. Cameron Sutton and Brent Brewer
have two picks apiece, and Marlon Walls has 4.5 of the team's 12 sacks.
Tennessee proved in an Oct. 19 win over South Carolina (23-21) that it can
take down the big boys on its home turf, so Auburn better not take the Vols
for granted in this one. But with UT forced to use its backup quarterback, it
will have a tough time overcoming the Tigers and their relentless rushing
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Auburn 30, Tennessee 21
11/06 10:45:49 ET