However, the Tigers prevailed in their first road game of the season, out-toughing the home team on points, 26-22, to improve to 5-0 on the season.
"That was great," Auburn first-year head coach Gene Chizik said after he and his team celebrated the victory with the thousands of fans who came early and stayed late to savor the win.
"I love watching these guys come in from a win," Chizik said. "That was our first road win and our first SEC road win. At a place like this where no one has ever played here, it was just a great way to come in here and find different ways to win the game and it was awesome to see our kids faces after the win."
Senior linebacker Josh Bynes said his team's mental toughness had a lot to do with the victory, something he said was built during a challenging offseason training program. "It really feels great to win a game like this one," he said, noting the Tigers didn't always play pretty football. "Whenever we needed to make a play, offense or defense, we were able to do that and that is why we won the game."
Auburn's offense kept the ball for 83 plays and racked up 459 yards, but left a lot of points on the table. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn noted it wasn't a work of art, but he liked what we saw. "Our guys showed a lot of toughness out there, even when things weren't always going our way," he said.
Malzahn got a solid game from quarterback Chris Todd, who completed 19-32 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown without an interception.
Fellow senior Ben Tate led the rushing attack, finishing the night with 128 yards on 25 carries. "Finding a way to win is what it is all about," he said. "This win gives us a lot of confidence we can go on the road and win. We are just going to keep on coming out and working hard each week."
Tate said the special teams, which had struggled in the first four games, had a big part in the victory, something Chizik also mentioned in the jubilant Auburn post-game celebration. "There are not going to be any easy ones in the SEC," Chizik said. "All of our SEC games are going to be tough. We have to be well-prepared and be prepared to win them in different ways. Tonight we found a different way to win the game."
Montario Hardesty, rumored to be hurt, looked anything but injured as he led the Vols with 90 yards on 21 carries. He also caught three passes for 56 yards and a touchdown.
UT's quarterback Jonathan Crompton started early, but got hot in the second half and finished with 259 passing yards as he hit 20-43 passes with two going for touchdowns, including one on the final play of the game as the clock hit 0:00 to cut an Auburn double-digit lead to four points.
Both teams missed scoring opportunities on their first possessions. UT field goal kicker Daniel Lincoln misfired on a 38-yard field goal that was wide right after the Vols excited the home crowd on the opening play of the game. Receiver Nu'keese Richardson lined up at QB and ran the ball 41 yards before Neiko Thorpe made a touchdown-saving tackle.
The Tigers got the ball and quickly moved into UT territory. However, an illegal block on center Ryan Pugh negated a 25-yard pass to Mario Fannin that would have put the Tigers at the Vols' 19. Instead, the Tigers were backed up to their own 40 and eventually punted on fourth and seven at the UT 37 when Todd pooch kicked the ball.
The Tigers scored on their next possession after a 27-yard UT punt gave the Tigers excellent field position at the Auburn 44.
The Tigers moved ahead 3-0 on 29-yard field goal by the Wes Byrum as the Tigers moved the ball 44 yards on 10 plays.
Immediately after Auburn's kickoff, the Tigers got another scoring opportunity as Josh Bynes came out of a big pile with a Tennessee fumble. Auburn had great field position at the UT 30, but couldn't get a first down and had to settle for a 43-yard field goal by Byrum to make the score 6-0.
At the end of the first quarter, the Tigers had out-gained the Vols 105-66 and kept the ball for 9:23 to 5:25 for the Vols.
The Tigers finally got the ball into the end zone with 8:07 left in the second quarter on a Gus Malzahn classic drive. The Tigers raced 87 yards down the field in 10 plays. It took just 2:32 on the clock for the Tigers to score.
On the drive the Vols had to call a timeout to catch a breath. However, that didn't matter as Ben Tate stormed into the end zone from 11 yards out for the score, running through a huge hole in the middle of the UT defense.
The Tigers had a chance to take command of the game later in the second quarter, but a drive deep into UT?territory stalled when Todd had a bad option pitch on third down. The Tigers recovered the ball for a nine-yard loss and Byrum's 46-yard field goal try was wide right, his first miss of the season with 1:30 left before intermission.
Tennessee had done little offensively since its first possession of the game, but that changed on its final possession of the first half. The Vols, running their hurry-up offense, moved 70 yards in seven yards for a score.
The big play was a third and 10 pass to tight end Luke Stocker for 40 yards. Montario Hardesty scored two plays later from a yard out with 28 seconds left in the half. Auburn took a 13-6 lead into the intermission after Nick Fairley blocked the PAT.
At the break the Tigers had 266 yards on 49 offensive plays while Tennessee netted 175 yards on 30 snaps.
Auburn scored on its second possession of the third quarter on a 20-yard Byrum field goal with 9:34 left in the period. The previous play the Tigers had six points in their grasp if McCalebb could have held on to a perfectly thrown pass in the back of the end zone from Burns.
Auburn covered 55 plays in seven plays in just 2:31 before settling for the field goal that put the visitors on top 16-6.
The Tigers stretched the lead to 23-6 with 13:41 to play in the final quarter on a wide receiver screen pass to Terrell Zachery, who showed quick feet making defenders miss on his way to the end zone. That drive covered 70 yards in eight plays and the Tigers appeared to be taking command with a knockout possible.
However, the Vols cut the margin back to 10 and did it quickly by moving 62 yards in seven plays and just 1:58 with the help of two fourth down conversions. The score came on a 31-yard screen pass play to Hardesty with 11:36 left in the game.
The Vols then cut the gap to 26-16 with with a 26-yard field goal by Lincoln with 4:19 to play.
The Tigers added an insurance field goal from 22 yards outwith 39 seconds to play to cap a drive that covered 35 yards on nine plays after Onterio McCalebb raced 52-yards with a kickoff return.
Auburn's prevent defense had several major holes as the Vols moved 79 yards in five plays for the final score as time expired.
Craig Stevens led the Auburn defense with five solo stops and six assists. Bynes added five solos and four assists.
The Tigers will be on the road again next Saturday with a trip to Arkansas.