StatTiger: Previewing Auburn at Tennessee

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) crunches the numbers to predict the winner as the Tigers take on Tennessee as Auburn heads to Knoxville for an SEC road game.

No. 7 Auburn 8-1 (4-1) at Tennessee 4-5 (1-4)

Series Record: 27-21-3 (Auburn)

Last Meeting: 2009 (Auburn, 26-22)

About the teams:

Auburn is coming off a 35-17 victory at Arkansas and Tennessee was defeated 31-3 at Missouri.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is 54-32 all-time and 4-5 in his first season in Knoxville. Gus Malzahn is 17-4 overall and 8-1 at Auburn.

Auburn is No. 17 nationally in total offense and No. 68 in total defense. Tennessee is No. 97 in total offense and No. 87 in total defense.

Auburn is No. 6 nationally in run offense and will face a Volunteer defense ranked No. 101 against the run.

Tennessee is No. 87 in scoring offense vs. Auburn, which is ranked No. 22 in scoring defense. Auburn is No. 28 in scoring offense vs. a Tennessee team ranked No. 79 in scoring defense.

With Justin Worley out with an injury, Joshua Dobbs will likely be the starter for Tennessee at quarterback for a second week. Dobbs has a passer rating of only 99.0, with 64 yards rushing on 10 carries. Auburn's Nick Marshall enters the game with a rating of 139.1 and has 520 yards rushing at 5.8 yards per carry. Jeremy Johnson has a pass rating of 195.2, completing 28 of 40 attempts for the Tigers.

Joshua Dobbs is a true freshman for the Vols.

Tennessee has a solid running attack, averaging 181 yards per game. The Vols are led by Rajion Neal, who has 771 yards at 5.05 yards per rush. Auburn has four players with more than 450 yards rushing. Tre Mason leads the Tigers with 921 yards and 13 TDs. Cameron Artis-Payne has 515 rushing yards at 6.9 yards per carry.

Tennessee has two receivers with more than 30 receptions this season. Marquez North has 32 with an average of 13.6 yards per catch. Pig Howard has 36 at 9.6 yards per catch. Neal is a threat out of the backfield with 19 receptions this season. Auburn's Sammie Coates leads the nation yards per catch at 26.6 and has five touchdowns. Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis have 19 receptions each for the Tigers.

Linebacker A.J. Johnson leads the Volunteers with 39 tackles. Marlon Wells leads Tennessee with 6.5 tackles for loss, including 4 1/2 sacks. Jonathon Mincy leads Auburn with 33 tackles. Dee Ford has 9 1/2 tackles for loss followed by Gabe Wright with seven.

Inside the Numbers...

*Auburn is No. 13 nationally in generating impact offensive plays vs. a Tennessee defense that is No. 112 in allowing them. Tennessee is No. 79 in generating offensive impact plays vs. Auburn, which is No. 54 in allowing them.

*Auburn is No. 48 nationally in yards-to-point-ratio on offense vs. Tennessee which is No. 76 defensively. Tennessee is No. 68 offensively in yards-to-point-ratio vs. an Auburn defense that is No. 6 defensively.

Of the 18 major statistical categories, Auburn holds an edge over Tennessee in 16. This includes a large advantage when Auburn runs the football and in total offense when Tennessee is on defense.

Senior end Dee Ford is averaging a sack per game for the Auburn defense since returning to action in game three following a preseason injury.

*Tennessee has advantages in kick return offense and punt return defense.

*Tennessee is No. 114 in pass efficiency offense vs. an Auburn defense that is No. 33 in pass efficiency defense.

*Auburn is No. 34 in third down offense vs. a Tennessee team that is No. 101 in third down defense.

Tennessee is No. 66 nationally in red zone offense and will face a defense ranked No. 12 nationally.

*Auburn is No. 53 in turnover margin and Tennessee is No. 64.

*Auburn has scored 22.3 percent more points than its opponent normally allows while the AU defense has held its opponent to 27.9 percent below its scoring average. Tennessee is scoring 2.7 percent more points than its opponents allow and the Volunteer defense is holding opponents to 5.9 percent below their scoring average.

The 2013 Tigers became the 13th Auburn team to begin a season with an 8-1 record or better since 1970. The other 12 teams finished the season with an average winning percentage of .892.

What to watch...

*How healthy Will Marshall be this week? He was clearly limited in throwing the football against Arkansas, which could become a factor against the Volunteers if the shoulder gives him problems this week. However, he should be close to 100 percent vs. the Vols.

*Tennessee has struggled throwing the football on third downs with a passer rating of 99.2. If Auburn can consistently place the Volunteers in obvious passing situations it could be a long game for Tennessee.

*Tennessee has struggled trying to tackle in space, especially against spread-oriented offenses. Will Malzahn be more creative on offense this week?

*Look for Tennessee to make a concerted effort to establish the run, taking pressure off its freshman quarterback.

*Auburn is No. 19 nationally in forcing tackles for loss (ratio) and will face a Volunteer offense that is No. 40 in allowing them. Tennessee is No. 97 on defense in tackles for loss (ratio) and will face an offense that is No. 17 in preventing them. Auburn should have the edge up front.

*Tennessee runs the football 63.5 percent of the time on first down, but expect the Vols to pass more against Auburn because the Tigers allow only 3.9 yards per rush on first down. The Volunteers have not been efficient throwing the football on first down with a rating of 108.9, but will need to be against the Tigers.

Keys to victory...

*If Auburn can avoid costly turnovers, the Tigers should win this game.

*Auburn's team strength is the running attack and this could be a great opportunity for Corey Grant to make plays on the perimeter. This also might be a great game to send Coates on a reverse or end-around play.

*Auburn had some run-fit issues on defense against Arkansas and some missed tackles. The Tigers will need to tackle better against a Volunteer offense that will scheme to place its skilled players in open space.

*The Tennessee defense gave up 15 impact plays to Oregon and nine to Missouri. Though the Volunteers are No. 101 against the run, Auburn will need to be effective passing the football to reach the full potential of its offense. Missouri had a pass rating of 142.4 against the Volunteers and Oregon had a pass rating of 225.8.

Ricardo Louis is tied for second in receptions for the Tigers.

*The Auburn offense was efficient last week against the Razorbacks, but not explosive. The Tigers produced only six impact plays after averaging 10 per game the previous eight contests. Having a passing threat will open up the offense again.

Final Word...

The scoring averages and margins against FBS competition projects an Auburn victory, 37-19. Strength of schedule is not factored into the projected equation with the Volunteers facing five quality offensive teams and five quality defensive teams. Auburn has faced three quality offenses and two quality defenses. Factor in the health of Marshall and this game becomes far more competitive. Looking at scoring margins for SEC games only projects an Auburn victory, 33-18. If you look at scoring margins when Tennessee is at home and Auburn is on the road in SEC play, it projects an Auburn victory, 30-26. The Volunteers have been far more competitive at home than away from Knoxville.

Jones is expecting a very physical game against Auburn and the Vols' head coach said this week's practice featured plenty of contact to prepare his team for that type of contest.

Tennessee has an experienced offensive line and will lean on them to challenge an Auburn defense that has struggled in defending the run against power-running teams. If the Volunteers can avoid turnovers, this matchup could play out similarly to Auburn's game against Mississippi State. A healthier Marshall would certainly open up the Auburn offense, placing additional pressure on a Tennessee defense that has struggled defending the run. The Tigers won't likely get by with a vanilla approach on offense as they did against Arkansas.

This will be the earliest kickoff time for the Tigers this season and it will be interesting to see how the players respond to the morning start. Past Auburn teams have performed poorly during early games, but playing on the road tends to increase the focus level of the players.

Through nine games Malzahn's staff has put a team on the field that has been consistently prepared and able to make solid adjustments during games. Auburn has established a "blue collar" mentality this season and should be up for the challenge of playing in a hostile environment. For the most part the Tigers have been successful by relying on their ground game, special teams and an opportunistic defense. I don't expect this formula for success to change nor the subsequent result. Auburn 31, Tennessee 20

Around the Southeastern Conference:

Florida over Vanderbilt
Missouri over Kentucky
Ole Miss over Arkansas
Georgia over Appalachian State
Texas A&M over Mississippi State
Alabama over LSU

Season Record: 64-10

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