Knoxville, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - The run-heavy formula is clearly working well for the seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers.
Tre Mason rushed for three touchdowns and quarterback Nick Marshall accounted for three more scores in the visiting Tigers' resounding 55-23 win over the Tennessee Volunteers.
Mason carried the ball 20 times for 117 yards in the sixth straight victory for Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC). Marshall added 214 yards and two touchdowns on 14 rushes while throwing only seven passes.
Chris Davis returned a punt for a touchdown and Corey Grant scored on a kickoff return.
"That was big. The punt return was a long punt return, we had really good blocking at the point of attack. Corey Grant cut it back across the field. He's got real speed. Our guys did a really good job," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said about the special teams scores.
True freshman Joshua Dobbs had 128 yards and one interception on 16-of-25 passing for the Volunteers (4-6, 1-5), who faced their fifth straight ranked opponent and a school-record seventh overall in the regular season this year.
"When you play a fast team like Auburn that has great team speed and a quarterback that has the elusiveness of Nick Marshall, you have to be decisive in the way you tackle," said Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. "If you sit back and play on your heels, it's over with."
Tennessee had success moving the ball on the game's opening drive before settling for a 39-yard Michael Palardy field goal.
A week after attempting only nine passes at Arkansas, the Tigers began the contest with three consecutive throws. Defensive back Cameron Sutton then sacked Marshall on a corner blitz to force a punt.
After the Auburn defense rebounded by forcing a three-and-out, Davis returned the punt 42 yards to the Tennessee 22. What followed was the first of the Tigers' three scoring drives consisting of two plays as Marshall quickly hit C.J. Uzomah for a 25-yard touchdown.
The Vols were able to block the extra point and drove into Auburn territory for a second time on their next offensive series. Palardy drilled a 42-yarder to knot the game at 6-6 with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter.
Tennessee then capitalized on a Mason fumble and grabbed its second lead when Rajion Neal opened a touchdown-filled second quarter with a 17-yard run to the end zone. He powered his way through a handful of would-be tacklers before high-stepping down the left sideline.
The teams combined for 42 points in the second quarter, with the Tigers posting 21 straight after Neal put the Vols up 13-6.
Auburn's first play from scrimmage in the stanza was a 62-yard scamper by Marshall. Mason followed with a 13-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers' defense then forced a punt, and this time Davis navigated his way 85 yards to the end zone before Marshall ran the ball in from seven yards on Auburn's next series out to make it 27-13 with 5:08 left in the half.
The junior signal-caller, however, threw an interception on the next Auburn drive. He was trying to hit Mason on a screen, but UT lineman Jacques Smith picked off the pass and sprinted 18 yards for a touchdown that closed the gap to 27-20 with 1:28 remaining in the second quarter.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Smith, coupled with a 34-yard kickoff return by Mason, meant the Tigers began the ensuing possession at the Tennessee 45. Two runs later, the second a 38-yarder by Marshall, and Auburn was back up 14 points at halftime.
The lead stretched to 41-20 when Grant returned the opening kickoff of the second half 90 yards.
Tennessee got a 40-yard field goal from Palardy on its next drive, but Mason added two more touchdowns with runs of four and one yards.
Mason has now rushed for at least one touchdown in seven consecutive games ... It's the first time Auburn has ever returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in the same game ... The Tigers scored at least 30 points for a sixth straight game, their longest such run since 2004 ... Auburn extended its win streak against the Vols to six ... The Tigers' 55 points were the most by either team in the history of the series ... Tennessee suffered its 20th straight loss to an AP top-10 team ... Auburn had an extra point blocked for the first time since Sept. 21, 1996 against LSU.