A Game of Strategy and Intensity

When you boil it all down: Beating Auburn largely depends on Tennessee's ability to run between the tackles. That is ground zero of this high-stakes clash and until the Vols can attack there with some degree of consistency their offense will never gain control or tip the critical mass of circumstances that invariably favor the winner.

This is where Auburn will attempt to make its stand and to launch its initiative. The Tigers' first objective will be to discourage an attack between the tackles by deploying superior numbers in the area that has become known as the box. In other words, they will try to force UT's offense to the perimeter by aligning its troops inside.

They will also press UT's wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, denying the short pass and forcing the Vols into intermediate and deep patterns where the completion percentage drops substantially. Once Tennessee's quarterback takes the deeper drops, Auburn will have time to apply pressure and disrupt UT's timing. It will attempt to achieve this with a combination of line stunts and blitzes. The duty of the D-line will be to cause confusion and create run throughs for the linebackers or safety to draw a bead on the QB.

Tennessee will likely counter by spreading the field with three or four wideouts, or balancing the defense with two tight ends. The latter option is less likely since UT is missing that imposing blocker at tight end with two-year starter Victor McClure just coming off suspension. Randy Sanders may also elect to use more motion with the slot receiver or tight end to force defensive adjustments before the snap and create mismatches after.

Another key will be for UT's receivers to get off the line clean and get open in a hurry. If they are able to achieve this Auburn might elect to go with some zone or it is more likely to provide help with the safeties which will take them out run support.

Tennessee's tight ends can contribute more as pass targets who find areas vacated by blitzing linebackers, or soft spots in the zone, or to get behind second-wave defenders cheating up to stop the run. That's why Justin Reed and Brad Cottam could play bigger roles than normal in UT's game plan. Each has exhibited the ability to catch the ball and they have to size to create match-up problems for any defense.

Likewise, Derrick Tinsley is a proven playmaker who has the speed and quickness to beat both linebackers and defensive backs. He could present problems, especially by going in motion and isolating on linebackers. Tinsley is also a good screen receiver who has yet to be featured in that capacity this season. Another play to consider with Tinsley is the reverse which the Vols showed early against Florida, resulting in a turnover. You just know the Vols have a play in which they fake that reverse and pass off play action.

Saturday might also become the long awaited breakout game for Gerald Riggs Jr., who is coming off a career best effort against Louisiana Tech. Riggs is finally looking comfortable and hitting holes with authority. He has the power to pop a big play inside and the speed to take it the distance.

As important as big plays can be to the success of a team, it's often made possible by the success of inside running game. Nothing deflates an opponent quicker than the long, sustained drive. In short: If Tennessee can run between the tackles, it will control the high ground and break the Tigers' will to win.

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