Vols Focused On Marshall, Auburn Running Game

Auburn leads the SEC in rushing offense as the Tigers prepare to face a Tennessee team that is last in rushing defense in the league.

For a team that is ranked 100th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 201.7 yards per game this season, this week has been a challenging one for the Tennessee Volunteers. Challenged by head coach Butch Jones after allowing 339 yards on the ground last week in a 31-3 loss at Missouri, Tennessee has seen the intensity rise in practice as the Vols get ready to take on the league's best rushing attack from the Auburn Tigers on Saturday in Neyland Stadium.

"For us it's going back to the basics," Jones said. "I have spoken about it all week. We have to become a much more physical football team. I don't know if that just occurs in one week, but it's a mentality that we're going to deal with.

"We need to find a three-technique on defense," Jones added of the problems up front. "Our three-technique (tackle) got lead in the zone-scheme and anytime you have a divided defense you're in trouble. There were times our one-technique (nose) was able to get reached. A lot of times that's technique, but it's overall strength and it's overall strain. We've really tried to go back to the basics this week."

Tennessee will try to slow down Tre Mason and the Auburn running game

Allowing more than 200 yards rushing in each of its five SEC games this season, the Tennessee defense had one of its best performances of the year just three weeks ago when the Vols took down South Carolina at home. Holding the Gamecocks to just 384 yards of total offense in a 23-21 win, Jones said after road losses at Alabama and Missouri that his team is glad to be back at home once again this weekend.

Going back to the basics is what Auburn did when Gus Malzahn arrived back on the Plains as the head coach following a season as the top guy at Arkansas State. Focusing on being physical has worked for the Tigers as they lead the SEC and are sixth in the country in rushing, averaging 306.1 yards per game.

A big reason for Auburn's success has been the play of quarterback Nick Marshall. Settling in after transferring from junior college, Marshall is second on the team in rushing with 520 yards and has five touchdowns. With talented Tre Mason putting up big numbers, averaging 102.3 yards per game with 13 rushing touchdowns, the Tigers have found a groove in the running game. Jones said he sees a physical Auburn team that has a catalyst for success in Marshall.

"Nick Marshall adds another element to the run game," Jones said. "He's quick. He's elusive. They are big and physical up front. They have a couple of backs that are extremely physical. And, they're playing with a lot of confidence. Running the football, a lot of it has to do with a mentality of running the football. They do a great job with their schemes and creating one-on-one matchups up front. They keep coming at you with different personnel groupings. They can do so much.

"To me Nick Marshall is a game-changer," he added. "Not only can he run the football, but he can also throw the ball. We're going to be forced to play in space. We're going to be forced to win our one-on-one matchups and tackle in space."

Marshall's comfort level in Malzahn's system has been on the the biggest reasons why the Auburn offense has taken off this season. Averaging 45.75 points per game in the last four weeks and 580.25 yards of total offense, the Tigers have got things rolling even with Marshall banged up first with a sore knee and then with a sore shoulder. Playing through both in big road wins over Texas A&M and Arkansas, Malzahn said everything has started to come together with Marshall's running ability of the the reasons why.

"I think he has gotten more comfortable each week with our backs," Malzahn said. "We put the ball on the ground against Mississippi State and I believe it was the last time we did that. Anytime you have a quarterback you try to build around that quarterback's strengths. It took us a little bit to figure that out, but that's definitely a strength of his."

Kickoff for Saturday's game between the No. 8 Auburn Tigers (8-1) and Tennessee (4-5) is set for 11 a.m. central and can be seen on ESPN.

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