While it may have been nerve-wracking for the Auburn fans at soldout Jordan-Hare Stadium as well those watching on national TV, senior Tez Doolittle said he enjoyed the moment.
"Yeah, it looked like it was a nervous game, but to me it was fun," said Doolittle, a noseguard who was making his first collegiate start as a sixth year senior. "It was a lot of fun," he added for emphasis.
It took a clutch play by a younger Tiger, true sophomore quarterback Kodi Burns, to preserve the victory. He hit a third down and five yards to go sideline pass from his own 10-yard with just over two minutes left to keep the Vols from getting one last do-or-die chance to get the ball back to set up a potential winning field goal.
A week ago, in a loss to LSU, failure to move the ball at the end of the game gave the Bayou Bengals the chance to come back and win with 1:03 left.
Wideout Montez Billings caught Burns' pass for a 10-yard gain. After that, Auburn was able to run the clock out on three plays.
"It felt great to make the play," Burns said. "All I was thinking was get the first down and we can get out of here, go home and get to practice," he said.
Burns noted that Billings was the first option. "The cornerback dropped back just enough to fit the ball in there and that was what I did."
Burns said it was nervous time at the end, but added, "It was fun. It's always fun to have plays like that and it felt good."
Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said to expect the Tigers to continue to rotate Burns and Todd at quarterback like they did vs. Tennessee. Even Mario Fannin lined up some at quarterback and ran the ball from the shotgun formation.
"I hadn't done a good job of getting the football to Mario and that ensured that he did get it," said Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who noted he would rather have an ugly win than a good-looking loss. "We are 2-1 in the SEC now and that is a good thing," he said.
It was difficult to find many good things offensively as the defenses held the whip hand most of the day at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Tigers, who improved to 4-1 overall, finished the game with just 226 yards of total offense at 3.4 yards per play. UT averaged 3.4 yards per play and netted just 191 yards.
The Auburn secondary had a strong performance, allowing UT to hit just 8-24 passes for 67 yards.
Auburn threw for 129 yards. Starting QB Chris Todd hit 14-23 passes for 91 yards with one TD and one touchdown. Burns was 4-6 for 36 yards.
Tuberville was upset with the running game production. The Tigers carried the ball 38 times for 97 yards. Ben Tate gained 70 on 19 carries and Fannin had four carries for 18 yards and Burns ran it eight times for 16 yards.
Robert Dunn was Auburn's top receiver with six catches for 54 yards.
Auburn held UT star running Arian Foster to 30 yards on eight carries. No UT receiver had more than one catch.
"Offensively, we are struggling," Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer said. "The second half the defense gave us plenty of opportunities and we didn't make anything out of it."
Fulmer had praise for the Auburn defense, calling it better than the one his team faced the previous week vs. Florida. Commenting on the Tigers' offense, Fulmer said, "Auburn has its own struggles offensively, to say the least."
Auburn took a 14-6 lead at halftime and should have been up at least 17-6 as Wes Byrum missed a 35-yard field goal late in the second quarter that Tuberville said was a major disappointment. Burns had come off the bench to lead the drive into scoring territory and excite the Auburn fans. However, Byrum's kick continued a pattern of wide left tries.
Tuberville didn't say Byrum was going to lose the field goal kicking assignment, but hinted that is about to happen if he continues to struggle.
Auburn's first touchdown was impressive enough to not give any indication of the offensive struggle that was to follow. With Todd at QB, the Tigers marched 69 yards on 11 plays with the TD coming on a perfectly thrown post route to Dunn that covered 18 yards.
UT narrowed the gap to 7-6 in the second quarter with field goals of 47 and 35 yards by Daniel Lincoln to cap drives of 39 and 61 yards.
Auburn's next score was set up by a Clinton Durst punt that Jerraud Powers downed at the UT five. On the next play, QB Jonathan Crompton and Foster mis-connected on a handoff and defensive lineman Jake Ricks recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Jake Ricks scored one of Auburn's two touchdowns.
"There was a timeout before the play," Ricks said. "Coach Tuberville told us that we had to stop the run and fortunately they turned over the ball. It was just like one of our drills from practice, except that this time it ended up as a touchdown."
The third quarter was scoreless, but the Vols cut the gap on the first play of the fourth period as Montario Hardesty scored on a two-yard sweep at left end.
UT punter Chad Cunningham kept the Tigers pinned deep with his punting the rest of the game. However, time after the time Auburn defense came up with big stops as the Vols took over at the Auburn 38, the UT 42, the AU 46 and the UT 46 after scoring the touchdown.
"We just came out and played hard defense regardless of what the situation was," said middle linebacker Josh Bynes, who made his first college start with Tray Blackmon held out with a cracked bone in his wrist."
Bynes led the Tigers in tackles with six solos and five assists. "I had to come out and stay poised, stay in communication with the other 10 guys on the field," he added. "No matter what happened, I just wanted to stay focused and be in on every play."
The victory was the fourth straight for Auburn in its series vs. Tennessee, matching the Auburn streak from 1961-64 as the longest in the series. Auburn leads the overall series 26-21-3 and is 7-2-1 all-time vs. the Vols in games played at Jordan-Hare Stadium.