Game Preview: Tennessee at No. 21 Auburn

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    Tennessee (2-3) at Auburn (4-2)

    Saturday, Oct. 13th, Noon ET

    Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) • Auburn, AL

    TV: SEC Network

    Series Record: Auburn leads 28-21-3

     Setting the table

    For once, it’s not Tennessee that heads into a match-up reeling. The Auburn Tigers are coming off an ugly and physical loss to Mississippi State last weekend, and their offense has been in disarray for a lot of the season. The Vols are coming off a bye week and saw some signs of encouragement in a loss to No. 2 Georgia in their last game. The once annual SEC rivals are facing each other for only the 10th time over the last 21 years, and neither has a great offense this time around.

     Who has the edge

    When Tennessee throws…

    Aside from their game against Florida, the Vols have done a good job of keeping the ball out of defenders’ hands when throwing. Jarrett Guarantano hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s shown improvement from last year. The big issue with the passing game has been the offensive line giving him enough protection when the defense’s coverages have been working. And Auburn’s front seven is the best the Vols will face this season. Not only that, but the Tigers have picked off eight passes so far this year. EdgeAuburn

    When Tennessee runs…

    The Vols have some skilled running backs, most notably sophomore Ty Chandler. But, once again, the offensive line has done the running game no favors and hasn’t been even average in run blocking all season. Tennessee barely ran for 60 yards total against Georgia the last time out, and Auburn’s run defense is just as good if not better than UGA’s. Yes, the Tigers got gashed by Mississippi State last week, but the Vols don’t have a quarterback like Nick Fitzgerald who can be used as a battering ram either. Edge: Auburn

    When Auburn throws…

    Jarrett Stidham hasn’t been nearly as effective this year as he was last season. And just like with Tennessee, Auburn’s offensive line has been a big reason why. Stidham hasn’t looked awful in most games, but he certainly hasn’t impressed. The Tigers do have some weapons on the outside, but their receiving corps is probably the weakest part of their offense outside of the offensive line. UT’s secondary has been hit or miss this year, and the injury to Trevon Flowers will impact their depth and play-making ability at safety. Edge: Slightly to Auburn 

    When Auburn runs…

    Unlike last year, Auburn’s rushing attack has been far from effective. The Tigers haven’t eclipsed 100 yards on the ground as a team for three straight weeks, and they’re averaging just over 103 rushing yards per game in SEC play. Tennessee has been better defending the run this year than last year, but they’ve taken a step back in conference play. Both Florida and Georgia rushed for over 200 yards against the Vols. It’s unlikely Auburn can find similar success, but they should be able to find some room to run. Edge: Slightly to Auburn

    On special teams…

    Auburn has been very inconsistent on kicking field goals this season, but that’s been their only weakness in special teams. They have a punt and kick-off return for a touchdown, have blocked three kicks/punts, and have been very stingy on opponent returns. The Vols have been good when they’ve kicked the ball, and they’ve been excellent on return coverage this year. But UT hasn’t had any dynamic returns themselves, and they’ve had a fumble on a punt as well. Edge: Slightly to Auburn

     Best-case scenario for UT 

    Tennessee capitalizes on Auburn’s sloppy offensive play and can find a way to pull off the upset. The Vols’ offensive line will have to play quite a bit better if they’re going to hold off the Tigers’ stout front seven, and if they can, Tennessee should be able to make this a game late and possibly even upend the Tigers.

     Worst-case scenario for UT

    The Vols’ offensive line plays like they have for most of the season already and ends up getting Jarrett Guarantano and UT’s running backs mauled. If Auburn forces a lot of mistakes from Tennessee’s offense and comes away with several takeaways, this could serve as a “get right” game for the Tigers.

     How we think it’ll play out

    Auburn appears ripe for an upset on Saturday, but the Vols may not be good enough just yet to pull it off. There’s a major mismatch with UT’s offensive line and Auburn’s front seven, and that could be the difference. Auburn’s offensive line isn’t good either, but Tennessee’s front seven isn’t as elite as the Tigers’. Regardless, we all think this game will be an ugly, lower scoring affair.

    Our picks:

    Nathanael: Auburn 20-10
    Auburn 24-9
    Auburn 16-13