You have to figure the Auburn Tigers are one angry team. Perhaps nobody in the country is more amped to get back on the field and forget about that ugly loss at Mississippi State. Actually, they are ready to forget most of the first half of the season. That top-10 win over Washington looks long in the rear-view mirror now.
Tennessee is coming off a bye week, having 13 days to prepare for this showdown. The last time we saw the Volunteers they were getting handled by Georgia fairly easily. The biggest problem was the rash of mistakes this team made including missing assignments, poor tackling and getting flagged three times for illegal formation on punting plays. How does that happen?
The Volunteers have lost 11 straight conference games and the prospects of getting that streak broken aren’t great, especially with Auburn and Alabama back-to-back. Unless the light switch goes off for them against the Tigers, this is could be a rugged few weeks for the poor Vols.
Tennessee at Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Auburn -15.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Use the bye week to their advantage
While the Tigers were getting beaten by Mississippi State, the Volunteers were able to take a week off to recharge their batteries. So look for UT to try and pull as many surprises as they can this week. And get their playmakers more involved, like Josh Palmer, Ty Chandler and Marquez Callaway (Hard to believe Callaway still has just 16 catches on the season). You also have to figure that the Vols will try to sell out to get to Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, use more stunts and blitzes, and be as unpredictable as possible. Especially since the Tigers have curiously proven to go punchless for long stretches of games.
2. Pressure Jarrett Guarantano
The poor Vols QB has taken some shots in the losses to Florida and Georgia. Good thing they had that week off, because he has already been sacked eight times on this young season. The Vols' starting O-Line goes sophomore, sophomore, sophomore, freshman and junior. This is a young bunch. The Plainsmen had their egos bruised a bit in Starkville, but this is one of those games that they can build some confidence up and wreak some havoc on the beleaguered Guarantano. Look for how they use the athletic front of Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe, Dontavius Russell and Derrick Brown. If Auburn can get enough pressure with just a four-man rush it’s going to be a tough night for UT.
3. The Volunteers can’t trip over their lip
We hear ya’ Big Orange. You’ve had a crappy start to the season. You’re 2-3 and been outscored 85-33 in your two SEC games so far. You can’t throw in the towel and feel sorry for yourself. Let’s wait and see what kind of fire the Vols come out with, especially early in each half. Considering the Tigers got handled pretty good at Mississippi State last week, this may be a game that UT players think they have a shot at winning. Don’t be surprised by a more spirited effort here from the Big Orange.
Mississippi State proved that it wasn’t so tough to shut down the Auburn offense, particularly the run game, and the good side about that is the Volunteers have an all-junior and senior-laden front seven. They may not have the talent of the Bulldogs but with the Auburn offensive line as beat up as it's been, an experienced defensive front like the Big Orange has can certainly cause some problems and keep them in the game. It’s hard to believe that the Tigers have now gone three straight games with under 100 rushing yards. And that’s against defenses like Arkansas and Southern Miss.
The big key is how diverse the Volunteer offense can become. If they’ve concentrated on an offensive makeover for this week’s game, one that disperses the ball around to their difference-makers, and can keep Guarantano upright, the Volunteers have a shot at making this a four-quarter game.
Prediction: Auburn 35, Tennessee 27
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.