Who: BCS No. 9 Auburn (8-1, 4-1 SEC) at Tennessee (4-5, 1-4)
When: Saturday, Noon ET
Where: Neyland Stadium (102,455) | Knoxville, Tenn.
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
Quick game notes: Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has got off to a fantastic start in his first year, posting an 8-1 record through nine games. It's the second best beginning to a coaching career on the Plains in the school's storied history. Terry Bowden won his first 20 games at the helm of the Tigers from 1993-94. ... It's been 20 years since a team has had to face as difficult a slate as the Volunteers this year. Auburn marks the seventh ranked team Tennessee will face in its last eight games, becoming the first school since Pittsburgh in 1993 to be dealt such a gauntlet. It's a record number of ranked opponents for the Volunteers to square off against in a single season; in 1991, they faced six ranked foes in the regular season and then No. 6 Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. ... Auburn's Tre Mason leads the SEC in rushing touchdowns with 13, with four of them coming last week versus Arkansas in a career-best performance. The junior running back has found the end zone in six straight games, the longest streak by a Tiger since Carnell Williams did the same in 2004. His six-game tear is the fourth-longest active streak in the FBS, placing him alongside Florida Atlantic's Jaquez Johnson and trailing Washington's Bishop Sankey (10 games), Indiana's Tevin Coleman (eight games) and Baylor's Bryce Petty (seven games). ... Tennessee is looking to end a five-game losing skid to Auburn, which stretches between 2003-09. It's a stark contrast to the Volunteers' previous luck against the Tigers, which saw them go 5-0-1 from 1989-99.
Tennessee offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
The Volunteers don't do anything particularly well offensively, as they rank 11th or worse in the league in the four major statistical departments: scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense and passing offense. But the unit expected to be the strength of the team this season was the offensive line, led by four preseason SEC selections (left tackle
, centerJames Stone
, right tackleJa'waun James
and right guardZach Fulton
). Not surprisingly, head coach Butch Jones was bitterly disappointed with the line's play last week, as the Volunteers were only able to rush for just 94 yards. If the Volunteers' big men up front can't open up more running lanes this week, it will allow Dee Ford (second in the conference with seven sacks) and the rest of Auburn's defensive line to tee off on true freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who's making his second career start.
EDGE: Auburn. The Volunteers' line may be talented, but they haven't been as consistent as the Tigers' pass-rushers this season, especially since Ford's return against Mississippi State.
Mason vs. Tennessee front seven
It's been repeated, oh, about 1,000 times (maybe more) since Sunday, but the Volunteers own the worst rushing defense in the SEC, giving up more than 201 yards per game. At the other end of the spectrum is Auburn's rushing attack, spearheaded by Mason, which averages 306-plus yards every outing. As good as Tennessee'sA.J. Johnson
is — he's tied for second in the conference with 76 tackles this year — he and the rest of the Tennessee front seven will have to play its best game of the season to have any hope of slowing down the Tigers.
BIG EDGE: Auburn. The numbers don't lie here.
Gus Malzahn vs. Butch Jones
There's no rivalry between these first-year coaches like Auburn's game last week, which featured one of the Tigers' biggest critics in Arkansas'Bret Bielema.
Still, it's a storyline being that both are in their initial go-round in the SEC. And it will be interesting to watch what kind of game plan Jones comes out with. Everyone knows Malzahn is going to run — and run often. Tennessee is in a different place, with an inexperienced quarterback and an offensive line that has drawn his ire all week.
BIG EDGE: Auburn. Much like last Saturday this is a lay-up; Malzahn is 8-1 overall and has Auburn in the running for a conference title (and a national title, too, with a few more losses by the remaining undefeated teams around the country); Jones has won half as many games as his counterpart, though it should be noted that the Volunteers' schedule has been brutal with a capital "B."