First take: A quick look at Tennessee

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 3, 2013 

Who: No. 7 Auburn (8-1, 4-1 SEC; beat Arkansas 35-17 on Saturday) at Tennessee (4-5, 1-4; lost to Missouri 31-3 on Saturday)

When: Saturday, Noon ET

Where: Neyland Stadium (102,455) | Knoxville, Tenn.

TV: ESPN

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: Auburn leads 27-21-3

When last they met: When Auburn traveled to Neyland Stadium in 2009, Gene Chizik was still in his honeymoon period as the Tigers coach. Auburn was 4-0 heading into the game, and Tennessee provided an opportunity for the Tigers to pick up the first signature win of Chizik’s tenure. And the Tigers went out and did exactly that, grabbing a lead in the first quarter and never trailing in the 26-22 victory, marking Auburn’s fifth straight win over Tennessee, its longest streak in a series that dates back to 1900. The Tigers jumped out to a 13-0 advantage following running back Ben Tate’s 11-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The teams then went on a series of scoring runs until Auburn kicker Wes Byrum nailed a 22-yard field goal with 39 seconds remaining to extend the Tigers’ advantage to 26-16 and put the game out of reach. Tennessee added one more six-pointer, as quarterback Jonathan Crompton connected on a 32-yard touchdown pass to wideout Denarius Moore as time expired to cut the final margin to 26-22. The Volunteers declined to kick an extra point. Auburn used this win to improve to 5-0 on the season — its best start since 2006 — but the zero in the loss column was erased the following week, losing at Arkansas in the first of what would be three straight defeats. Auburn went on to finish with an 8-5 record in Chizik’s debut season. Meanwhile, this 26-22 defeat dropped Tennessee to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in conference play. The Volunteers would circle the wagons the following week, decimating Georgia in a dominant 45-19 home victory. Tennessee continued to be a streaky squad for the remainder of 2009, but it still managed to put together a winning season (7-5) in Lane Kiffin’s first year.

Quick facts on Tennessee: Butch Jones is 4-5 in his first year at Tennessee entering this weekend's game. The Volunteers have had a brutal schedule, as their game against the Tigers represents the seventh ranked opponent they've faced in the past eight games. Jones' overall record stands at 54-32, going 23-14 in three seasons at Cincinnati from 2010-12 and 27-13 in three seasons at Central Michigan from 2007-09. ... Saturday's blowout loss to Missouri — which saw Tennessee muster only a field goal — was the Volunteers' first trip to the Columbia, Mo. ... Joshua Dobbs started at quarterback in place of Justin Worley, who is out indefinitely after having surgery on his thumb. Dobbs became just the eighth true freshman to take the field as the Volunteers' first-team signal-caller to start a game. The problem for Tennessee is that he looked the part, tossing a pair of interceptions against no touchdowns. He did make a big play with his feet, though, scampering down the field on a 33-yard carry. It was the longest by a true freshman Vol quarterback since Tee Martin had a 38-yard rush against Notre Dame in 1999. ... Sophomore wide receiver Pig Howard caught 11 passes for 89 yards, a personal-best effort. The 11 receptions tied for the fifth-most in a single game in school history and the most since Kelley Washington also reeled in 11 catches against LSU in 2001. ... Junior receiver Devrin Young became just the seventh Tennessee player to reach the 1,000-yard mark on kick returns. Willie Gault tops the list, tallying 1,854 yards returning kicks from 1979-82. ... Linebacker A.J. Johnson collected 11 tackles on Saturday, his second consecutive game registering double-digit takedowns (he had 10 tackles against Alabama). The junior from Gainesville has recorded 17 double-digit tackle games in his career as a Volunteer.

Which Tiger is primed for a big performance: At this point, wouldn't it be more appropriate to try to figure out when Tre Mason isn't primed for a big performance? He had a spectacular outing Saturday, scoring four touchdowns and carrying the ball 32 times for 168 yards, making the junior the first Tiger to find the end zone four times in the same game since Cam Newton did so versus Kentucky in 2010. This would also be a great time to mention that the Volunteers are the worst team in the SEC against the run, giving up an average of 201.7 yards per game. (Don't be surprised to hear, "Mason rips off another big run!" with regularity this Saturday.)

Which Volunteer could give Auburn fits: Since Auburn could seemingly do nothing to stop Arkansas' rushing attack on Saturday, why not expect the same kind of game plan from Tennessee? And Rajion Neal is the perfect player to exploit those same weaknesses that the Razorbacks did. Tennessee's senior running back averages 85.7 yards per contest, which ranks sixth in the SEC. The Fayetteville native saved his best season for last, as his 771 rushing yards are the most of his four-year career. With three games left to play, he can continue adding to that total.

Extra point: Former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley left with the lowest winning percentage (.417, 15-21 overall) of any Volunteers coach with at least three seasons on the job. You have to go back over 100 years to find the next-lowest in George Levene, who held the position from 1907-09. But even he won nearly 60 percent of his games, going 15-10-3 (.589) in his three years leading Tennessee's football program.

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