"I've heard a lot of excuses here and there from a lot of their players," sophomore free safety Will Herring says. "I don't really try to get into the talk here and there, but I think everything will be settled on the field. I think it was settled last time. Yeah, they made mistakes, but we put ourselves in position to make plays when we were called on."
The Tigers crushed the Vols in the first half 31-3 in Neyland Stadium on Oct. 2 in a total team effort from the offense, defense and special teams. While some other teams around the country would choose to run up the score to improve their BCS standings, Auburn ran mostly basic schemes in the second half and settled for the 24-point win.
"Anytime you're up 30 points you're going to be conservative and run the clock and let the clock play in your favor," Herring says.
While a win over the Volunteers Saturday likely won't be enough for the undefeated Tigers to reach the Orange Bowl, it would be the first conference championship on the Plains since 1989 and the 12 wins in 2004 would be the most in school history.
"It's been a while," Herring says of winning the conference. "It's been a long time and we've had a few shots here and there. Hopefully, we can take advantage of it Saturday and come out and make a statement.
"Going into the season that was one of the major goals to be conference champs, just like every season," he says. "We've felt like we had the potential and the talent the last few years. We just haven't put everything together. To win the SEC, which is out right the best conference in the nation, is just an honor and something that every team in the league strives for every season."
Will Herring (left) and Ben Obomanu celebrate Auburn's victory over Alabama.
The Auburn defense, which has made drastic improvements each year since the arrival of coordinator Gene Chizik in 2002, has not allowed more than 20 points in a game all season.
"The turning point that really caught my attention was against LSU," Herring says. "We put in all these new fancy packages to stop this and that and it was a lot of preparation. When we got in the game they drove down on the first two drives and had nine points like that. We went back to the basics and started playing cover four and cover two and went to basic fronts, lined up and said we're going to do what we do best."
Auburn has allowed only one rushing touchdown all season. The Tigers are fourth in the nation in total yardage allowed at 267 yards per game and lead the country in allowing only 9.6 points per contest.
"I haven't really checked out all of the individual statistics," Herring says. "The main thing we take pride in is keeping people out of the end zone and points off the board. That's what wins football games. It's not how many yards you give up or first downs. If a team drives the ball 50 yards on us and we're able to stop them then we did our job and we got the offense back on the field.
"We've taken pride all year in keeping people out of the end zone," he adds. "I think that's reflected because we've got the number one scoring defense in the nation. We take pride in that and we expect to do the same against Tennessee."
Against Tennessee on Saturday, the Vols will have a different quarterback under center from the Oct. 2nd contest. Erik Ainge, who threw four interceptions and lost one fumble versus Auburn, suffered a shoulder injury on Nov. 6 against Notre Dame and will not play. Brent Schaeffer, who added an interception of his own against the Tigers, suffered a collarbone injury on Oct. 30 and is questionable. The starter for the Volunteers is expected to be Rick Clausen, younger brother of Casey Clausen.
"He's obviously gotten a lot better since that first game against Notre Dame," Herring says of Clausen. "He was all over the place. The offense hasn't been the problem really the last two weeks. They've put up 30-plus points and 300-plus yards through the air. He's solid at times. I think if we get after him and get in his face we can rattle him, no doubt. We'll hopefully get him to make some mistakes and throw us a few."
Tennessee (9-2 overall, 7-1 SEC) is trying to win its first conference crown since 1998, when it finished 13-0 and as national champions. The Volunteers lost their last trip to the title game 31-20 to LSU in 2001. At the time of the loss, they were 10-1 and a win away from playing Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.
Kickoff for Saturday's game is set for 5 p.m. CST on CBS.