Auburn Tigers at Tennessee Volunteers Preview

Darrell OwenbyContributor ISeptember 30, 2009

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 19:  The Auburn Tigers huddle after pregame warmpus before facing the West Virginia Mountaineers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Auburn Tigers at Tennessee Volunteers
Knoxville, TN 10/3/2009
7:45pm EST ESPN
LineVols are favored by one

The Auburn Tigers take their undefeated record into Neyland Stadium for the first time since 2004. Auburn (4-0; 1-0 SEC), opened as a two point underdog.   SECRivals expects the line to be near even by kick-off.

Auburn brings a loaded offense into Knoxville that is highly ranked nationally.   In fact, the Tigers are ranked in the top ten in total yards gained (second), rushing yards (fifth), points per game (third), yards per game (fourth), and touchdowns scored (fifth).

How are the Tigers an underdog in this contest?

The Auburn schedule has not exactly been filled with the best of the BCS, but the Tigers have beaten Mississippi State and West Virginia.

Auburn boasts a balanced offense.   While rushing for 1,045 yards the Tigers have also passed for 1,060 yards.   Offensively, the Plainsmen have scored 21 touchdowns and six field goals on the season.

The Tigers are led on the ground by running backs Ben Tate and Onterio McCalleb.  Tate provides the bruising impact of a typical Auburn running back while McCalleb's ability is based on pure speed.  Either player is capable of taking it to the house anytime they touch the ball.

Chris Todd leads the passing attack while Kodi Burns leads the team from the Wildcat Package.   As a team, the Tigers have already eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in passing on the year.  Additionally, AU's signal callers have only thrown two interceptions this season.

As good as AU's offense has performed, the defense has not been up to par.  The Tigers are yielding an average of 328 yards per game (174 passing and 154 rushing).   Even though the defensive stats appear to be a sieve, the Tigers do have eight interceptions and are +7 on the year on turn overs.

AU's opponents have converted on 25 of 58 third down conversions.

Tennessee seems to be a team in turmoil.   While the bitter memories of last season still linger, the new coaching staff has pointed the team in the correct direction.   In all four games this season, the Vols have yet to show any signs of giving up.

Tennessee's offense features a solid rushing attack.  The feature backs in the new Lane Kiffin offense are Senior Montario Hardesty and True Freshman Bryce Brown.   The coaching staff has brought the running game a long way from last season.

The most noticeable difference in Hardesty is the fact that he has finally been taught how to run.   In the past (even this season), Hardesty's tendency has been to run to the line and shoulder juke just before first contact.  Now Hardesty will run through the defensive player.

Jonathan Crompton has been the sole starter at quarterback this season.   Many believe that Crompton is a fine practice player who has had difficulty translating his reps to the game.

Crompton has 685 yards passing and eight interceptions on the year.

Tennessee's strength is found in their nationally ranked No. 13 defense.  UT is ranked inside of the top forty in every major defensive category.   The Vols are only surrendering an average of 233 yards per game and have played UCLA and Florida.

How did the analysts arrive at Auburn as a road underdog?

Auburn struggled against West Virginia ... in a monsoon.   According to most analysts, West Virginia's Noel Devine ran the ball all over (and through) the AU defense.   True, Devine ran for 128 yards ... 71 of those yards was on a single carry.   The WVA quarterback actually ran the ball more times in the game (19) than Devine (15).

West Virginia led at the end of the first quarter 21-10, but lost the game 41-30 due to four interceptions gained by the AU defense.   Leading 34-30 with less than four mintues remaining, Craig Stevens stepped in front of Jarret Brown's screen pass attempt and returned it fifteen yards for a touchdown.

Knoxville can be a tough place to play.   With a capacity of over 100,000 loud fans, communicating on field can be a nightmare.  That was then.  Welcome to 2009.

UT has not sold out a home game this season.   Sure, the announced attendance for the UCLA game was high, but there were empty upper deck seats.   The Ohio game last week had an estimated 65,000 fans in attendance.   Neyland Stadium is not the monster to opposing teams that it once was.

Tickets for the AU - UT game are still available as are tickets for the UT - UGA game.   That is simply difficult to comprehend.  At any rate, UT needs their fans to win this game.

This game will come down to the basics.  If Auburn's running attack gets underway, then it will be Katie Bar the Door.   Auburn's best chance to win the game will be through a balanced offense while limiting penalties and turnovers.  Defensively, Auburn must stop Tennessee's rushing attack.

Look for Monte Kiffin's defensive scheme to load the box to stop the run first while not allowing anyone behind the secondary.  The offensive game plan will look like the UT - Florida game: run the ball, control the clock, keep it close, and not allow the quarterback to beat your team.

SECRivals Score Prediction:
Auburn 23
Tennessee 17


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