Game Week Preview: Tennessee

A preview of the Tennessee Volunteers and Auburn's first SEC football road game of the Gene Chizik Era is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--When Auburn takes on the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday night at Neyland Stadium, the Tigers will face a team looking to get back among the elite of the Southeastern Conference just like Gene Chizik's club.

Both teams feature new coaching staffs with former USC assistant and Oakland Raiders' Coach Lane Kiffin taking over the duties for Phil Fulmer after last season.

So far Kiffin's tenure has been an up and down one, to say the least. After talking a big game when he got the job and during the recruiting season, Kiffin backed it up by landing a strong recruiting class on Rocky Top. Since that time though the highlight of his work has been playing Florida closer than most people expected (23-13). After blowing out Western Kentucky to open the season, Tennessee was held to just 208 yards of total offense in a 19-15 loss to UCLA.

Playing at Florida, the Vols held Florida to just 323 yards of total offense, but managed just 210 yards of their own in the loss. They came back last week to get a 34-23 win over Ohio, but allowed 319 passing yards to the Bobcats in the process.

Through four games the Vols are averaging 31.3 points and 368.5 yards of total offense per game. On the ground Tennessee grinds out 197.2 yards per contest with 171.2 through the air. Take the first game against an outmanned Western Kentucky team out of the equation and you have some scary numbers if you're a Tennessee fan.

Without the 63 points, 657 yards of total offense, and 380 rushing yards, the Vols are averaging just over 20 points per game this season. The averages plummet to 272.3 yards of total offense and 146.6 rushing yards per game.

While the offense has its question marks, the Tennessee defense has been solid, but will be without one of its top players for the rest of the season. The biggest question mark for the Vols heading into week five is at linebacker where starter Nick Reveiz is out for the rest of the season after injuring a knee against Ohio University last week. One of the leaders on defense, Reveiz will be a hard guy to replace especially with Tennessee lacking experienced depth at the position.

Look for the Vols to likely move Savion Frazier (6-2, 221, Jr.) from behind weakside starter Rico McCoy (6-1, 220, Sr.) to the middle with freshmen Nigel Mitchell-Thornton (6-0, 229) and Herman Lathers (6-1, 213) also available in the middle. On the outside junior LaMarcus Thompson (6-1, 221) or freshman Greg King (6-3, 205) is expected to get the start on the strong side for the Vols. McCoy is second on the team with 28 tackles this season

Up front Tennessee has played well despite not having a great deal of size with the exception of big Dan Williams (6-3, 327, Sr.) at tackle. Beside him fellow senior Andre Mathis (6-2, 280) can hold his own as well and is backed up by senior Wes Brown (6-4, 257). On the outside juniors Ben Martin (6-3, 240) and Gerald Williams (6-4, 248) anchor the left side while speedy Chris Walker (6-3, 232, Jr.) is on the right. Walker leads Tennessee with four of the team's 10 sacks this season.

The secondary is led by All-American safety Eric Berry (5-11, 203, Jr.) while freshman Janzen Jackson (6-0, 180) plays opposite him in the secondary. Berry leads the team in tackles with 31, has three and a half tackles for losses, one interception and one forced fumble. At the corner position the Vols have been victimized at times this season as former wide receiver Brent Vinson (6-0, 201, Jr.) and sophomore Art Evans (6-1, 173) hold down the starting spots. Also playing for the Vols will be speedy Dennis Rogan (5-10, 178, Jr.).

Offensively the biggest question mark is how will senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton play for the Vols The 6-4, 228 senior has been mostly down during his career at Tennessee, but has the talent to make plays and at times he has done that. This season has completed 62-107 passes for 641 yards with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, but five of those touchdowns came in the opener against the Hilltoppers.

The good news for Crompton is that he's got a dynamic ground game to turn to led by senior Motario Hardesty. At 6-0, 215, he's a powerful runner and enters Saturday's game with 485 yards and four touchdowns. Hardesty is dealing with an knee issue and how effective he will be for the Auburn game. Behind him freshman Bryce Brown (6-0, 215) is also a very capable back and was ranked as the top runner in the country last season coming out of the high school ranks. He has 215 rushing yards this year. The two have combined for all but 89 of Tennessee's rushing yards.

Question marks about at the wide receiver position where the Vols are without several key performers due to injury. That has left the duties up to a large group of mostly inexperienced players. Senior Quintin Hancock leads the Vols this season with 11 catches for 128 yards, but missed last week's game because of a jaw injury. Freshmen Marsalis Teague (5-10, 180) and Nu'Keese Richardson (5-10, 165) have been forced to pick up the slack so far this season with a combined 11 catches for 135 yards between them. Florida State transfer Brandon Warren may be the wildcard to watch for the Vols this week.

Up front the Vols are a large and experienced group with four seniors starting on the offensive line. Tackle Chris Scott (6-5, 330), guards Vladimir Richard (6-4, 300) and Jacques McClendon (6-3, 324) and center Cody Sullins (6-1, 260) are the strengths of the offense for the Vols and pave the way for the ground game along with freshman right tackle Aaron Douglas (6-6, 282) and fellow tackle Jarrod Shaw (6-4, 332, Jr.).

In the kicking game junior Daniel Lincoln is one of the SEC's best with just one miss on seven tries this season with a long of 49 yards. Punter Chad Cunningham averages 40.7 yards per kick with one downed inside the 20-yard line. In addition to his duties at wide receiver, Richardson is a dangerous punt returner, averaging 11.4 yards per attempt.

While Tennessee's problems on offense have continued under the new regime, Auburn hasn't had that same problem. The Tigers enter the game averaging 45.2 points and 526.2 yards of total offense per game.

Even when you take away the season highs for the Tigers in several categories the numbers are still outstanding. Taking away the 54 points scored against Ball State, Auburn is still averaging 42.3 points per contest. Take away the 589 yards of total offense versus Mississippi State and the Tigers are still averaging 505.3 total yards per contest.

Not stopping there, Auburn is averaging 261.2 yards per game on the ground. Taking out the 390 yards against Mississippi State the average is still 218.3 yards per game. In the passing department the Tigers are averaging 265 yards per game. Taking out the 306-yard effort against Ball State still leaves Auburn at 251.3 yards.

To put it all together, taking away Auburn's top performances on offense this year still leaves the Tigers averaging 42.3 points and 469.6 yards of total offense per game.

With Tennessee's problems scoring points and moving the ball against quality opponents, Auburn should be in good shape provided the Tigers don't help the Vols out. If Chizik's club can keep the turnovers and mistakes to a minimum, the Tigers will have an excellent chance to leave Rocky Top 5-0 and with a road win under their belts.

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