Here are the five keys to a Tennessee victory.
T.O. TURNAROUND: Expecting Tennessee to reverse the minus-four turnover ratio it suffered in the first meeting against Auburn is overly optimistic and unrealistic. To begin with Auburn didn't reach 11-0 by routinely giving the football away and it's somewhat remarkable Tennessee went 9-2 with a minus-one turnover ratio (21 committed, 22 forced) in 2004. However it wouldn't be too much to expect UT to keep miscues to a minimum and perhaps to force a couple of Auburn errors along the way. The Vols don't have to play a perfect game to beat Auburn neither can they afford to be on the downside of the turnover ledger. Leveling the turnover equation should keep Tennessee close and that's the key to winning late.
SLOW THE RUN: What is often overlooked from Auburn's early K.O. of Tennessee in the first encounter is the fact the Vols held the Tigers celebrated rushing tandem to 152 yards on 37 carries. In fact, UT was the only team besides LSU to hold both Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown under 100 yards in a game this season. When you factor in sacks and other tackles behind the line of scrimmage the Tigers finished with a 3.5-yard average per carry. A repeat of that effort will be needed for the Vols to pull off the upset. The key will be getting penetration up front and maintaining run gaps to prevent cutbacks. UT needs to do a better job of containment and stringing out the perimeter run. Williams and Brown are difficult to bring down one-on-one so the Vols must swarm the ball on defense and be physical at the point of attack.
STOP BIG PLAYS: Tennessee essentially challenged quarterback Jason Campbell to beat them and he complied in a big way, burning the Vols for gains of 31, 32, 36 and 46 yards. By contrast, UT's biggest pass play was 21 yards. Those four pass plays accounted for 145 of Campbell's 252 yards passing vs. the Vols. His other 12 completions totaled 107 yards for an average of under nine yards per completion, compared to an average of over 36 yards on the other four completions. Campbell did most of his damage when allowed to stand in the pocket and survey the field. UT has to do a better job of getting pressure on the passer. Getting sacks is great but maintaining a consistent degree of pressure is more important.
BALL CONTROL: Another common misconception created by the one-sided score in the October game is that the Vols had little success on the ground. In reality, Tennessee averaged the same 3.5 yards per carry that Auburn posted in the contest. Gerald Riggs had a 6.1 yard average on seven carries including a game-long run of 26 yards. However, because UT fell behind by so much so early, it essentially had to abandon the ground game in favor of the pass. This created an imbalance in Tennessee's offensive attack that allowed Auburn to tee off on the pass and keep constant pressure on Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer. The result was five interceptions and a 45 percent completion rate. It also allowed the Tigers to control the ball for 36:06 to UT's 23:54. Auburn had an advantage in time of possession every quarter of the game except the third, including an incredible 12:30 to 2:30 advantage in the fourth quarter. To keep its depleted stop troops fresh, Tennessee needs to control the ball and field position. Rick Clausen maybe better suited to a ball-control attack given his knack for making short, accurate throws. That means taking shorter drops and delivering on rhythm. For deeper drops, the Vols need to incorporate play action into the game plan to slow Auburn's rush and freeze its linebackers. Again balance is the key.
RECEIVERS' REVENGE: Auburn's celebrated secondary had its way with UT's wide receivers in the first game, playing them physical off the line and intimidating them down field. Tennessee's top two pass catchers and playmakers, Jayson Swain and Robert Meachem, were held to a combined 36 yards on a total of four receptions. Redshirt freshmen Meachem has improved with playing time and recorded the Vols first 100-yard game by a wideout last week. Swain has the size and strength to compete against anyone on the collegiate level and caught two touchdowns against Vanderbilt two weeks ago. If either can draw some double coverage or defeat Tiger DBs in single coverage, Auburn will be placed on the defensive and won't be able to blitz with impunity. It would be a terrific boost for UT's offense in terms of opportunity and psychology.