Auburn improved to 2-0 in the SEC and 3-2 overall with the victory over the seventh-ranked Volunteers, who made a furious fourth quarter rally with two touchdowns and a last minute drive that came up short. On a night when the Auburn pass defense struggled against UT veteran quarterback Casey Clausen, junior cornerback Carlos Rogers sealed the victory with an interception with 58 seconds left at the Auburn 18.
"It was great to see him step up to the plate and make a great play when everything was on the line," said defensive coordinator and secondary coach Gene Chizik.
"I just read the route," Rogers said. "They had been running that the entire second half. The inside guy would cut in and the outside guy would run a curl. When I saw the quarterback look at him (wide receiver Mark Jones, I was ready to make the pick."
With Tennessee out of timeouts, it was all over but the shouting and there was plenty of that as Auburn fans and players lingered on the turf at Jordan-Hare Stadium to celebrate what Tiger players called a "statement victory."
The defensive stand preserved the masterpiece performance by junior tailback Carnell Williams, who ran around and through the Volunteers for 185 yards on 36 carries on a night in which the Tiger running game lived up to or even exceeded preseason expectations with 264 yards on 57 carries.
"Obviously, we have improved a little over the last month," noted AU head coach Tommy Tuberville, who watched his offensive line blow open big holes in the Tennessee defense on the way to finishing the night with 421 total yards of offense. "With 264 yards rushing on 57 carries, you can win a lot of games doing that."
Junior Ronnie Brown cruises over for Auburn's first touchdown on a very impressive opening drive.
Tuberville said Williams had a tremendous performance and singled out the offensive line and tight ends for having a strong game. "It was a great job overall by the offense. This group has taken a beating over the past month. I am proud of them. They kept their head up and stayed positive and they stayed focused. That was a big win for the offense."
The head coach said the Tigers will need to study what happened defensively in the second half to allow the Vols to move the ball so well after being dominated by the Auburn defense for most of the first half. UT never could establish its running game as it finished the night with just four net rushing yards on 16 carries.
"You have to give it to Tennessee," Tuberville said. "They really played well the second half. They didn't run the ball. They just said to heck with it, we are going to throw it down the field. We got a little bit tired, they started max protecting and we couldn't get a rush on. You have to give it to them. They did a good job in the second half of adjusting."
UT coach Phillip Fulmer said, "I have to compliment Auburn. They are a great team. They came ready to play tonight and they played well. We knew that they would run the ball. They rushed better, obviously, than what we had prepared for. I am proud of our football team, but we can't spot 14 points and expect to win, especially in the opponent's house."
A variety of Tigers stepped up with big games as Auburn overcame seventh-ranked Tennessee despite being plagued by mysterious officiating calls that included several questionable personal fouls whistled on the home team. The most game-changing of the calls was a second quarter takeaway of a Jason Campbell TD pass to Devin Aromashodu, who not only had one foot in bounds, he had two. QB Jason Campbell said the Tigers were "robbed" of a touchdown on the play, but he ended up with two other TD tosses as he hit 11-18 passes for 157 yards without an interception.
Tuberville took exception to the no-TD ruling, too. "I don't know what they called it," he said. "Somebody said he didn't have control, but the official couldn't see that far and he was on the other side. We will just have to look at the film. Everybody makes mistakes, I guess."
UT's Clausen suffered his first SEC road loss in 12 outings, but he did his best to prevent it from happening. With Tennessee unable to do anything running the ball, the Vols passed virtually every down in the second half. When it was over, Clausen had completed 30-47 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns and gave the packed house at Jordan-Hare Stadium some anxious moments in the fourth quarter.
"We played a great team," said Clausen. "We didn't need to spot them 14 points. We knew it was going to be tough coming back, but we never gave up. I was proud of the team at the end of the game."
The first quarter was all Auburn as the Tigers scored two touchdowns and racked up 209 total yards to just 43 for the Vols. Tennessee managed just one first down to 10 for the Tigers.
Tennessee won the toss and deferred. Auburn started from its own 20 after a kickoff into the end zone and put together its most impressive drive of the season marching 80 yards on 10 plays. The Tigers started the drive with a nine-yard pass to tight end Cooper Wallace and threw just two more passes on the drive, a four-yarder Jeris McIntyre and a screen pass for 11 to Carnell Williams.
The offensive line blasted big holes on almost every other play. Williams had runs of seven, 16, 14, minus one, and four while Ronnie Brown closed the drive with runs of 11 and a six-yard burst through the line for a touchdown.
Tennessee got its only first down of the first quarter on 24-yard pass to Mark Jones. Auburn got the ball back at its 14 and put together just as impressive a second TD drive moving 85 yards on seven plays.
Williams started the drive with a six-yard run and had runs of 18 and three yards on the march. Brown had runs for no gain and eight yards. The big plays on this drive were passes. A 16-yard pass over the middle to Anthony Mix converted a third and seven and on second and two at the UT 29 Campbell threw a perfect TD pass to Ben Obomanu, who caught the ball in stride deep in the south end zone with 4:48 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers had a chance to extend their lead early in the second quarter as they drove deep into UT territory again. However, this time they had to settle for a 37-yard field goal try by John Vaughn, whose kick sailed wide right.
With the Auburn defense playing very well, Auburn got another chance to score. It appeared that the Tigers did just that when Campbell threw a pass to Devin Aromashodu in the end zone. The official there ruled the catch happened out of bounds, much to the dismay of the Auburn crowd and coaches. Tennessee dodged the bullet when two plays later Williams fumbled the ball and Jabari Greer recovered at the UT 19 with 7:17 left in the half. That was AU's only turnover of the night.
Neither team could get anything going on their next possessions, but UT used some good passing by Clausen and luck to move 84 yards on 10 plays to cut the gap 14-7 just before halftime. The big play was a 29-yarder to James Banks that looked like it was going to be intercepted by linebacker Dontarrious Thomas. Banks caught the bounce in the air and UT cashed it in five plays later on a one-yard run by Jabari Greer with 26 seconds left in the half.
Auburn answered the second half bell like a heavyweight champion. After Tennessee missed a 50-yard field goal on the opening possession of the third quarter, Auburn drove 66 yards in 12 plays to stretch the margin to 21-7.
Auburn opened the drive with a five-yard pass to Courtney Taylor and followed that with 11 straight running plays. Brown started the running with gains of 11, 10, nine and four. Williams then ran the rest of the way on runs of one, 10, 15, four, two, five and one at right guard for a touchdown with 4:38 left in the third quarter.
The first turnover forced by the Tigers set up the next touchdown. Demarco McNeil's fumble recovery after a hit on receiver Tony Brown by Antarrious Williams put the Tigers in business at their own 37 with 3:36 left in the third.
Auburn converted on the turnover, moving 63 yards on eight plays. The TD came on a perfectly executed bootleg pass of eight yards from Campbell to freshman tight end Cole Bennett. That put the Tigers up 28-7 with 14:12 left in the fourth quarter.
With the help of a pass interference, UT responded with a scoring drive moving 63 yards on eight plays to cut the gap to 28-14 on a 16-yard pass from Clausen to Jones with 12:01 left.
UT kept the heat on by moving 80 yards on seven plays in just 2:25 to cut the margin to 28-21 with 7:53 remaining. Chris Hannon scored on a 28-yard pass from Clausen.
Auburn's offense responded by driving the ball from its 20 to the Tennessee 29. Auburn converted three third down plays on the drive, including a brilliant run by Williams on third and five to gain six yards on a swing pass to get AU its initial first down on the play. "I thought that was probably the biggest play of the game running the clock and running about four minutes more off," Tuberville said. "It was just a gutty performance."
The Tigers could have iced the game with a field goal on fourth and seven at the Tennessee 29, but Vaughn's field goal attempt was just wide right for a second time. The Vols converted one fourth down and moved to the Tiger 29 when Rogers intercepted the pass to end the threat.
Overall, it was a tremendous football game for us and our fans," said AU's Tuberville. "We needed it."
Game Notes: Auburn's 209 first half yards are the most scored during the Tuberville Era...Tennessee's minus nine rushing yards in the first half was the lowest total by an AU opponent since Florida had minus 12 in 2001...Auburn lost the coin toss for the ninth straight time going back to the 2002 season...Walk-on Kevin Hobbs made his second start at cornerback and Junior Rosegreen started at strong safety for the second straight game after starting at cornerback in the first three games...Tailback Ronnie Brown injured his hamstring. He said it was frustrating not to be available most of the second half, but said he hopes to be ready for the Arkansas game.