The Vol attack also handed the homestanding Tigers a gift touchdown in the second quarter when quarterback Jonathan Crompton and tailback Arian Foster botched a handoff at the UT 5-yard line that Auburn recovered in the end zone, boosting a 7-6 lead to 14-6.
Based on one TV replay he saw, head coach Phillip Fulmer said on post-game radio it appeared the crucial fumble occurred because "Arian didn't get his elbow up and we (Crompton) didn't get it in there just like we should."
Making the miscue especially frustrating, the coach added, was the fact that "We must hand that thing off on that particular play 500 times (during practice) in a week."
Tennessee closed to 14-12 when Montario Hardesty scored from two yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter but a two-conversion pass from Crompton to Gerald Jones was stopped at the 2-yard line.
The Vol offense was the picture of futility thereafter, posting three-and-outs on each of its final four possessions. Thus, on a day when Tennessee's defense limited Auburn to seven points and 226 yards of total offense – just 75 in the second half – the Vols still came out on the short end of the score.
Auburn scored its only offensive points of the day on its second possession of the game, going 69 yards in 11 plays. The key plays were a 14-yard pass from Chris Todd to Robert Dunn on third-and-six at the Vol 41 and a seven-yard pass from Todd to Tommy Trott on third-and-seven at the UT 24. The touchdown came two plays later on an 18-yard pass from Todd to Dunn.
Tennessee closed to 7-6 on second-quarter field goals of 47 and 35 yards by Daniel Lincoln.
After acknowledging "a tremendous effort by our defensive football team," Fulmer conceded that "Offensively, we were just unbelievably poor in the second half."
Indeed. Tennessee managed a paltry 62 yards of total offense after intermission. The Vols were especially inept on their last four possessions. Here's how those unfolded:
- A 36-yard punt return by Jones gave the Vols the ball at Auburn's 38-yard line. After a Jones run and an incomplete pass from the G-Gun formation, Crompton lost a yard on a quarterback draw, leaving UT with a fourth-and-11 at the Tiger 39.
- Vol punter Chad Cunningham pooch-kicked the ball to Auburn's 12-yard line, and the Vols got the ball moments later at their own 42-yard line. This time they sandwiched two Crompton incompletions around a six-yard run by Lennon Creer, setting up a fourth-and-four at the Vol 48-yard line.
- Cunningham punted into the end zone but Auburn wound up punting the ball back moments later on fourth-and-20 from its 10-yard line. This time starting at the Tiger 46-yard line, Tennessee got a six-yard gain from Hardesty on first down. A Hardesty no-gain and an incompletion set up fourth-and-four at the Auburn 40, however.
- Cunningham again punted into the end zone but three Auburn runs lost two yards and the Tigers punted the ball back. Starting at its 46-yard line, Tennessee got a two-yard gain from Creer and two incompletions before Cunningham punted the ball dead at the Tiger 5-yard line with 2:59 remaining.
- It appeared the Vols would get the ball back for one last shot at a game-winning score when Auburn encountered a third-and-4 at its 11-yard line. Backup quarterback Kodi Burns found Montez Billings for a gain of nine yards, however, and the Tigers ran out the clock from that point.
Tennessee finished with a mere nine first downs – only two of those occurring in the second half. The Vols gained 124 yards rushing but Crompton completed just 8 of 23 passes for 67 yards. He was 0 of 5 in the fourth quarter. Tennessee converted just 4 of 16 third-down opportunities.
Offensively, Auburn (4-1 overall, 2-1 SEC) wasn't significantly better than Tennessee (1-3, 0-2). The Tigers posted 15 first downs, rushed for just 97 yards and passed for 129. Auburn converted on a mere 6 of 18 third-down tries.
With both offenses struggling, the punters stayed busy all afternoon. Auburn's Clinton Durst punted nine times for a 43.7-yard average. UT's Chad Cunningham punted 10 times for a 39.9 average.
Hardesty led Tennessee's ground attack with 35 yards on 10 carries. Foster added 30 yards on eight attempts. Auburn's Ben Tate rushed 19 times for 70 yards.
Although he conceded that the Vols' offensive ineptitude in the second half was the kind of thing that "gets you beat," Fulmer noted that: "If we don't fumble the ball backed up we probably win the game anyway because Auburn wasn't going to score on us that much."
On this day, the Tigers didn't have to.