NCAA Statistical Rankings:
Rushing Offense--UT 41st, AU 47th
Passing Offense--UT 67th, AU 88th
Total Offense--UT 55th, AU 73rd
Scoring Offense--UT 82nd, AU 87th
Rushing Defense--AU 19th, UT 26th
Passing Defense--UT 30th, AU 34th
Total Defense--AU 20th, UT 22nd
Scoring Defense--AU 10th, UT 48th
Last time out…
The last time the two teams met was in the 2004 SEC Championship game, with Auburn defeating the Volunteers, 38-28. Coach Tommy Tuberville is 3-1 against Tennessee since coming to Auburn.
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who enters the game completing only 56 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and four interceptions, directs the Volunteer offense. Arian Foster leads the Tennessee rushing attack with 233 yards at 3.4 yards per carry. Foster rushed for 1,193 yards last season, but has put the ball on the carpet one too many times. Lucas Taylor is the leading Volunteer receiver with 14 receptions through three games.
Senior linebacker Ellix Wilson leads the team with 25 tackles on the season, including 3.5 plays behind the line of scrimmage, but the Tennessee defense has recorded only three sacks this season.
DeAngelo Willingham and Eric Berry both have two interceptions on the season. As a team, Tennessee has only 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and is 57th in the nation in terms of turnover margin.
Since being named the starter for the Southern Mississippi game, Chris Todd has averaged 217 yards passing per game, completing 58.4 percent of his passes in the last three weeks. Ben Tate has two fewer rush attempts than Arian Foster, but has gained nearly 100 yards more than Foster. Rod Smith leads Auburn with 13 receptions, 16th best in the conference.
Chris Todd is expected to start his fourth Auburn game this week vs. UT.
Jerruad Powers leads the Auburn defense with 22 stops and one interception. The Auburn defense is No. 2 in the conference with 31 tackles behind the line, led by Antonio Coleman's 5.5 tackles for loss. Auburn's 10 quarterback sacks is also second in the SEC.
Punter, Clinton Durst is expected to return to action this week after missing the LSU game with a virus. Durst is currently 17th in the nation in punting and his absence last week was notable.
What to expect…
The Vols come to Jordan-Hare with their backs to the wall after a 1-2 start to the season. Coach Phil Fulmer realizes their season is slowly slipping from their grasp and a victory over Auburn would put Tennessee back on the right track.
Normally a strong running team, the Volunteer offense has found running the football difficult and it won't be any easier this Saturday when the Vols face off with 20th ranked run-defense in the nation. Despite its issues in the running game, look for Tennessee to run straight at the Auburn front four, hoping to have the same success LSU had last week.
As much as Auburn attempted to run the ball on LSU, the Tigers managed only 76 yards rushing. Tony Franklin elected to go with the passing game on first down during the second half of the LSU game so expect the same trend to carry over this week against Tennessee. Franklin has already hinted the Auburn offense might lean on the passing game more often to increase production.
On defense, both teams will make stopping the opposing running game a priority on defense. Forcing the opposing quarterback in obvious passing situations is normally a common goal on defense and a nightmare for the offense. With Tennessee losing to Florida and Auburn losing to LSU, both teams are now two games in the hole in their respective divisions and can ill afford another conference loss.
For the season Chris Todd is completing 66 percent of his passes on first down for 9.3 yards per completion. A preseason goal for Franklin's offense was a 50/50 split in run and pass play selection and for the passing game to open up the running game. Somewhere along the way priorities changed and it has been the running game attempting to set up the pass.
Auburn is currently running the ball 66.9 percent of the time on first down for only 3.2 yards per rush. It's already been established Auburn has struggled on first down production, leading to a poor third down conversion rate (28.1 percent).
With Coach Franklin hinting Auburn will pass more this week, the most likely increase should come on first down for multiple reasons. Obviously, first down is the best down to throw the ball with opposing defenses having to play both phases of the game honestly. In this particular case, Tennessee's pass defense has been exposed on first down and Chris Todd's most productive passing down has been on first down. Against Tennessee, UCLA completed 16 of 19 passes on first down for 179 yards. Look for Auburn to take advantage of Tennessee's weakness by imposing Chris Todd's strengths.
Neither team wants to be forced into obvious passing situations. Jonathan Crompton currently has a QB rating of 60.8 on 3rd down, converting 7-19 third down conversions with a pass attempt. Last week against Florida, Crompton completed 4-7 third down passes and was intercepted two times. Todd has fared better with a rating of 123.9 on 3rd down, giving Auburn a better chance if both teams are forced into obvious passing situations. In comparison, Todd's 3rd down rating is better than Brandon Cox from 2005 (98.1), 2006 (121.8) and 2007 (97.7).
Last week, I strayed away from the scoring margins, picking Auburn to beat LSU, 16-13; despite the scoring margins indicating LSU would win by 10. Coming into this week, Auburn is plus one on offense and minus 14 on defense with an average score of 21-10. Tennessee is minus 4 on offense and minus 5 on defense with an average score of 22-20. Taking the scoring margins and average scores of both teams and Auburn wins 21-8 or 16-6 for an average score of 19-7. Go with the numbers this week and an Auburn victory.
Auburn 20, Tennessee 10