Each week the two sports editors and football beat writers, Ryan Crews and Ryan Schumpert, will give their keys to Tennessee’s weekly matchup and prediction for the matchup.
We move on to Auburn.
Keys to the game
1. Get better containment in the passing game
Tennessee’s offensive line was supposed to be one of its strong suits but from week three onward, that has not been the case. It has actually been detrimental to the already shaky passing game.
The Vols have instability at quarterback and youth at receiver, so running back and offensive line play were going to lead this team to whatever success they may have had. However neither of the more upperclassmen-laden units have performed to where they were expected to. ‘
According to Sports Info Solutions, last season Tennessee had the ninth lowest percentage of dropbacks where it allowed pressure on the signal caller in the SEC. This season they have dropped to 13th, second worst. This comes after many projected the offensive line to make a big leap this year.
The offensive line has got to provide a solid pocket, otherwise Auburn defensive line will have a field day.
2. Don’t allow big plays
For most of the season, games start out well before somebody in the Vol defensive backfield misses an assignment and allows a big gain. From there, Tennessee has struggled in making up that gap as the opponent starts to pull away.
It will be key to see who steps up in the absence of Shawn Shamburger, but the unit has seen some shuffling throughout the season, so they could be well-prepared to meet the changing circumstances.
The Tigers operate primarily in shorter-yardage situations so if they are not careful, Tennessee defenders might fall prey to ‘falling asleep’. Much like a triple-option team, Auburn knows just how to lure defensive backs into complacency to steal big chunks of yards.
1. Get strong play from the front seven
Auburn’s offense’s biggest weakness is its offensive line. Breaking in four news starters led to some early season offensive troubles.
Tennessee’s defensive front hasn’t been without its problems this year, head coach Jeremy Pruitt fired his defensive line coach last month, taking over his responsibilities himself.
The unit has struggled to recreate the consistency of last season’s six-game win streak to close the season. The defensive line did look like a completely different group in the fourth quarter of the Arkansas loss two weeks ago.
For Tennessee to pull another upset on the plains, they need to limit Auburn’s run game and win the battle on the line of scrimmage.
2. Create chunk plays in the passing game
This Tennessee offense has been unable to create big plays in the running game all season, and the Vols offense isn’t good enough to consistently drive it 75 yards on SEC defenses.
That leaves the Vols needing to find a way to create some big plays in the passing game. That’s what Tennessee’s offense was able to do in its 2018 upset at Auburn, hitting seven passes over 20 yards.
Whoever starts for Tennessee at quarterback needs to be able to hit some passes down field to help fuel the Vols’ offense. Tennessee needs a big day from Josh Palmer and Jalin Hyatt to help whomever is playing quarterback.
Spread: Auburn -10.5
Over/Under: 50.5 points
The Vols need to win this game or at least lose it in close fashion. They need to get some positive momentum going in this later part of the season at their end two games of Florida and Texas A&M are unlikely to provide that.
With a good showing in this game, Tennessee can generate some hope and take care of business against a Vanderbilt team that has been depleted with COVID and other injuries.
As Jarrett Guarantano is likely to get the start at quarterback, I don’t see the Vols coming away victorious. However, it’s key not to have a loss where it all falls apart like Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and Vanderbilt in 2018, Georgia State, Florida and Alabama in 2019 and Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama already this year. A loss like that could lose Pruitt the fanbase and parts of his team, making 2-8 look like a very possible record.
Auburn 28, Tennessee 14
Jeremy Pruitt is 5-1 against Gus Malzahn since Pruitt has been a defensive coordinator calling the defense against Malzahn’s up tempo approach. Perhaps the best win of the Pruitt era was the upset at Auburn in the Vols’ coach’s first season.
No. 23 Auburn hasn’t been as good as its 4-2 record this season earning controversial wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss, but the Tigers do seem to be hitting their stride as things begin to click on offense.
This time, I think Auburn has too many weapons in the passing game and Tennessee has too many offensive limitations, but I guess that’s why it’s called an upset right?
Tennessee has the capability to make the upset happen again, a few long touchdown passes would go a long way, but I don’t see it.
Auburn 28, Tennessee 17