Saturday's Matchup Has A Lot On The Line

Auburn's job will be to slow down true freshman quarterback Erik Ainge.

Auburn, Ala.--Facing a second Top 10 opponent in the 2004 season, Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville said that he and his players are looking forward to a battle with Tennessee Saturday at 6:45 p.m. CDT in a game shown nationally on ESPN.

"This is a great game for Tennessee and it's a great game for us," Tuberville said at his weekly Tuesday morning press conference. "We recruit in both states. They have a lot of Alabama players. We have a lot of Tennessee players on our team and so it's a good carry-over. I enjoy playing this game. I think it's fun for everybody. Our players very much enjoy it. I would say probably half of the players on each team were recruited by the other team."

After a non-conference matchup against The Citadel sandwiched between games against highly-ranked LSU and Tennessee, the Auburn players are ready to get back to work in the SEC and are hoping to be 3-0 in league play after Saturday night.

"I can tell it's a conference game with the excitement of our players," Tuberville said. "It's been a good week up to this point. (Monday) was a day off. I could tell Sunday at practice, which was a little bit longer than normal because of the conference game, that our guys are excited.

"You should be excited with a game of this magnitude and it's only the fifth game of the season for us," he added. "You feel like you've been playing for a while, but you also know you've worked your way into a another big game that has a lot on the line."

Ronnie Brown scores against the Vols last season in an Auburn victory.

The Tigers and Vols played every season from 1956 to 1991, but the series was halted because of re-alignment in the SEC. The teams met in the SEC Championship Game in 1997, and then again in regular season contests the next two seasons. Tennessee won all three games, but Auburn won a 28-21 decision last year in Auburn.

In that game the Tigers got off to a fast start with 209 first quarter yards and a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter. Auburn built a 28-7 fourth quarter lead, but Casey Clausen led a furious rally that ended on a Carlos Rogers interception with under a minute remaining.

Tuberville said that the injury status for his Tigers heading into the game with Tennessee is a positive. "(There are) really no significant injuries to talk about," he said. "We're pretty healthy. That's a major advantage for our football team as compared to last year where we had four or five guys who were starters that were out at this point in the season. We've been pretty lucky till now, and we're pretty much full go with all of our guys playing in this game."

Auburn leads the all-time series at 23-21-3, but Tennessee holds a 14-7-2 advantage in Knoxville. Saturday's game will be the first major road test in 2004 for the Tigers, playing in front of well over 100,000 fans.

Tuberville said that he doesn't plan on simulating crown noise this week in practice to prepare for the game. "I've done that one time in 29 years of coaching and I still have a headache from that," he said. "I don't think it serves any purpose. I think what you do is talk about focus and communication with your team all week long. We've been to several stadiums before that are very noisy, and it just takes a lot more concentration."

Tuberville and several players said that they've been working on hand signals to get ready for playing in Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee has a new look this season on offense with true freshmen quarterbacks Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer running the show.

"They have a very different offense as compared to last year," Tuberville said. "They've gone back more to the running game and they've been very successful at it so far. They've got a very physical offensive line and it'll be a major challenge for a defense that's not as big as what we've had in the past. That's going to be a different challenge playing this Tennessee team compared to last year's Tennessee team, which threw it quite often."

The Tennessee running game has been successful through its first three games, grinding out 263.3 yards per game. But the passing game hasn't been bad either, averaging 240.3 yards per game combined between Ainge and Schaeffer.

"A lot of people say that you can't play two quarterbacks, but they've done a pretty good job of it," Tuberville said. "They're undefeated and there are two freshmen playing and both of them have made big plays. And when you beat a team as good as Florida is then you know you're doing something right, because the quarterbacks were a big part of that victory.

"These two are a little different," he added. "One (Schaeffer) is going to be a little more play action. Watching them play in the first few games, they'll both run the same offense. They can do the same things. And I say that one's more play action, the one that's more play action can also be a pocket guy too. He can throw in the pocket. So you can't say that they're going to do certain things when one or the other is in the game. You just have to be more knowledgeable of who's in the game and what they can do athletically. It's fun to watch them on film. You can tell they're young freshmen that make mistakes, but they also make big plays."

Tuberville said that the Volunteers are strong on the defensive side of the ball again this year as well. Despite giving up good yardage in the first half of games against Florida and UNLV on the ground, the Vols come into Saturday's contest giving up just 121.7 rushing yards per game.

"It's usually one of the best-coached defenses in the league," he said. "John Chavis does a good job and it's no different this year. They're very sound with fundamentals and technique. This year it looks like they have more speed on the field defensively. They are playing a little bit more man coverage, and because of that they've been able to play more aggressive.

"It's a typical Tennessee team with a lot of athletes," Tuberville added. "They're very well coached from top to bottom. And then you throw in a great punter, probably the best punter in the country who gives them great field position, it just adds on to the weapons that they have."

The Auburn-Tennessee game will be nationally televised by ESPN at 6:45 p.m. CDT., and ESPN Gameday will be broadcast Saturday morning live from Knoxville. Saturday's game will mark the 11th time in Auburn's last 24 games to face a Top 10 opponent, with a 6-4 record in those games.

"Our guys are looking forward to this week," Tuberville said. "It's going to be a different challenge for us going to play in Knoxville. Last year we played a very good football game (against Tennessee) and we hope to play another good one this week. We'll just see what happens."

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