Coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers will try to stay in the hunt to win the SEC West title when they take on the Tennessee Vols at Neyland Stadium. Kickoff is set for shortly after 11 a.m. CST from Knoxville where the Tigers will bring an 8-1 overall record into the contest with a 4-1 record in SEC games. The game is being televised on ESPN.
Tennessee will be trying to snap a five-game losing streak in the series vs. the Tigers, a streak that dates back to 2003. The Vols are hoping for success at home after suffering losses at Missouri and Alabama the past two weeks to drop their record to 4-5 overall and 1-4 in the league for first-year head coach Butch Jones.
After rehearsing the game plans on both offense and defense on Thursday, Malzahn said his team had a good week of practice, especially considering it is week 10 of the season. He noted that he hopes it results in a good performance in Knoxville.
"We are playing a Tennessee team that is tough at home," he said of the Vols, who are 4-1 at Neyland Stadium this fall. "We will have to have our ‘A' game."
Malzahn said one of the keys to winning on the road is to keep turnovers to a minimum. Against Arkansas last week the defense had three takeaways while the Auburn offense didn't throw an interception and had just one fumble by quarterback Nick Marshall that he managed to recover.
"I saw a seam and I should have run outside on the play, but I tried to cut back in and the defender hit the ball," Marshall said of his 28-yard run on which he lost control of the football.
"I was really anxious when that happened and I knew we really needed the ball back," he said. "I was able to go into the pile and get it."
Arkansas had cut Auburn's lead to 28-17 when Marshall fumbled on the opening play of a drive that covered 75 yards on nine plays. Wide receiver Trovon Reed's hustle play kept the loose ball alive allowing the quarterback to regain control of the football.
Tre Mason put the Tigers back comfortably in front with a 12-yard touchdown run with 10:17 to play to end the possession and the Tigers were not threatened after that.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said he is seeing progress with the Tigers' ball security. "That is four games in a row now that our (running) backs have not fumbled the football," he said. "That is big. We have started cleaning that up.
"Nick's fumble aside, believe it or not, that was one of his better ball-security game," Lashlee said.
Auburn is now plus two for the season in takeways/turnovers, the first time the Tigers have been on the positive side of that statistic since week two of the season.
Lashlee said he also likes the way the Tigers continue to be productive in the red zone. They were 4-4 in scoring touchdowns on their trips inside the Arkansas 20.
For the season the Tigers are scoring on 89.2 percent of their red zone opportunities, which the leads the SEC. On 37 times into the red zone the Tigers have 27 touchdowns and six field goals.
The Tigers are ranked second in red zone defense this week, allowing opponents to convert on 70.0 percent of their opportunities with 13 touchdowns and 10 field goals on 30 chances.
Senior end Dee Ford said the defense's improved mental toughness explains why the Tigers have improved in this aspect of their play after finishing 11th in the SEC in that statistic in 2012.
Ford said the Tigers are still not satisfied with any aspect of their play despite their 8-1 record. "We know we have things to work on and we know the competition is going to get better and better in the coming games," he said.
Ford, who missed the first two games with a knee injury suffered in preseason, has made a strong comeback and leads the Tigers in quarterback sacks with seven. He gave his teammates and coaches a scare when he hobbled off the field after taking a blow to the knee on Auburn's final defensive play of the Arkansas game. However, the senior said he will be ready to go full speed vs. the Vols. "I am good," he said. "It was just a little bruise."
In other news and notes:
*The Tigers head into Saturday's contest in relatively good shape health-wise despite playing a physical game at Arkansas. Quarterback Nick Marshall should be close to 100 percent after being limited last week with a bruised shoulder. Cornerbacks Jonathon Mincy and Chris Davis, who were shaken up last week before returning to action vs. the Razorbacks, are ready to play.
*Tight end Brandon Fulse, who did not dress out for the Arkansas game, will be ready for action against the Vols, Malzahn said.
*The weather forecast for Knoxville has no rain predicted with a temperature of 55 degrees at kickoff warming into the low 60s during the contest.
*TV coverage of the game will feature Dave Pasch doing the play-by-play for ESPN with Brian Griese the analyst and Tom Luginbill will be the sideline reporter. Radio coverage is available on Channel 91 on both Sirius and XM. Rod Bramblett, Stan White, Quentin Riggins and Paul Ellen will provide coverage on The Auburn Network.
Trent Fisher plays safety for the Tigers.
*Senior punter Steven Clark and junior safety Trent Fisher were honored on Thursday. Both were named to the Capital One Academic All-District ® Football Teams, selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America for their performances in the classroom and athletically.
*The Tigers are averaging 6.99 yards per offensive play, which ranks 11th nationally. Auburn, which has already surpassed its 2012 numbers for total offense, rushing, points scored and first downs, needs 182 yards to surpass last season's 12-game total for passing yards.
Auburn's offense is averaging 7.1 yards per play on first down, 5.9 yards on second down plays, 7.9 yards on third downs and 2.1 yards on fourth downs. The Tigers have scored 15 touchdowns (10 runs, five passes) on first downs, 15 touchdowns (12 runs, three passes) on second downs, 11 touchdowns (six runs, five passes) on third downs and none on AU's 10 fourth down plays.