Examining the Matchups: Tennessee vs. No. 23 Auburn

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    (Photo By Maury Neipris/Tennessee Athletics)

    Tennessee travels to The Plains on Saturday night looking to snap its current four-game losing streak.

    The Vols (2-4) will be facing No. 23 Auburn (4-2) coming off of a bye week as a result of their game with Texas A&M being postponed due to COVID-19. Auburn hasn’t played in two weeks due to a bye week and its game against Mississippi State being postponed. Kickoff between Tennessee and AU is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

    Here’s a look at the matchups within the matchup between the Vols and Tigers:

    Tennessee’s passing attack vs. Auburn’s pass defense

    It’s hard to give Tennessee’s passing attack led by Jarrett Guarantano the advantage over anybody, especially an Auburn pass defense that ranks third in the SEC as it only allows 236.2 yards per game through the air.

    Auburn’s secondary has exceeded expectations this season after having to replace four of its five starters that left for the NFL. The corner duo of Roger McCreary and Nehemiah Pritchett have played well, while the safety duo of Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood are one of the better tandems in the SEC. When you factor in starting nickle Christian Tutt, Auburn should find success against a Tennessee wide receiver room that has struggled to get open this season.

    Edge: Auburn

    Auburn’s passing attack vs. Tennessee’s pass defense

    This will be an interesting matchup to keep an eye on. Auburn has arguably the best wide receiver trio in the SEC in Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove. While Tennessee’s secondary has a whole has struggled this season, Vols junior corner Bryce Thompson has played well despite battling through injury. Thompson and Alontae Taylor both have the ability to hold their weight against a very talented Auburn receiver group.

    Where Auburn definitively wins this matchup on paper is in the slot. Tennessee has struggled mightily over the middle of the field and the Tigers should take great advantage of this deficiency with Schwartz — the fastest man in college football. The Vols will desperately need their pass rush to fluster quarterback Bo Nix in order to help out their secondary.

    Edge: Auburn

    Tennessee’s rushing attack vs. Auburn’s rush defense

    Tennessee’s offensive line has not lived up to the preseason hype that was generated all offseason long. The Vols still have the advantage on paper as they are as healthy as they’ve been this season and are coming off a strong performance against Arkansas until Guarantano left the game due to injury.

    UT also gets the advantage because its going up against an Auburn defensive front that hasn’t looked great this season. The Tigers’ defensive front is still trying to find their footing six games into the season after losing Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe to the NFL. Auburn’s defensive front played its best game of the season in its last game out against LSU, but LSU is in disarray.

    The Vols have more experience and more talent up front.

    Edge: Tennessee

    Auburn’s rushing attack vs. Tennessee’s rush defense

    Auburn’s offensive line hasn’t been dominating this year, but Tennessee’s defensive front provides little resistance against any opponent. The Vols have struggled to pressure the quarterback throughout the season and have provided little resistance against the run.

    Meanwhile, Auburn has really found its stride running the football of late due to the emergence of Tank Bigsby. The true freshman has burst on the scene and is now third in the SEC in all-purpose average (148.83 yards) and has accounted for almost a third (11) of Auburn’s plays of 20+ yards this season.

    Bigsby is licking his chops ahead of Saturday’s matchup against Tennessee’s rush defense that is allowing 160.5 rushing yards per game, fifth-most in the SEC.

    EdgeAuburn

    Tennessee’s special teams vs. Auburn’s special teams

    Neither team has a definitive advantage on special teams in this matchup. Tennessee and Auburn both have great kickers. The two teams are also getting the job done when it comes to punting the football.

    The difference in special teams between these two teams is the coverage unit. Auburn is allowing the ninth-most yards in the SEC on kickoffs this season while Tennessee has done a good job of not giving up explosive plays in the return game. The Vols have also been slightly more productive on returns this season.

    Edge: Tennessee

    Tennessee’s coaching staff vs. Auburn’s coaching staff

    Neither coaching staff inspires a ton of confidence. But this Tennessee coaching staff doesn’t deserve the edge over any coaching staff at the moment. Jeremy Pruitt’s staff has not been on the same page and it has filtered down to the players. Pruitt has, however, found plenty of success against Auburn over the years and the opportunity will present itself once again. Still, Gus Malzahn’s offense should be able to take advantage of Pruitt’s defense that has many deficiencies.

    Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will also look to take advantage of Jim Chaney’s offense that has taken a step back at each position this season. Steele has Auburn’s defense headed in the right direction after having to replace several players that left for the NFL.

    Edge: Auburn

    Ben McKee
    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.