Saturday, the Tennessee Volunteers (2-4) travel to The Plains to take on the No. 23 Auburn Tigers (4-2) in an attempt to halt a four-game losing skid.
The Vols’ last scheduled game on Nov. 14 was postponed to the end of the regular season due to COVID-19. Tennessee’s last four games resulted in losses against Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.
With the Vols’ scheduled bye week and unexpected postponement, the last Tennessee football win is now seven weeks in the past. This game against Tennessee will also be Auburn’s first time back on the field since they played LSU on Halloween.
The last time the Vols were in action, though, was a 24-13 road loss against the Razorbacks. Tennessee jumped out to a 13-0 lead at halftime but failed to score in the second half. The defense gave up 215 yards in the air and another 198 on the ground leading to Arkansas’s come from behind win.
On the other side of the football, Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano started the game and threw for 42 yards and rushed for another 31 yards before suffering an injury in the third quarter. Brian Maurer replaced the injured Guarantano but was pulled after completing none of his four passing attempts. Freshman Harrison Bailey then came in to relieve Maurer and completed 6-for-9 throws for 65 yards. He also threw two interceptions on a tipped pass on fourth down and a heave into the endzone as time expired.
Going into the Auburn game, the Vols’ depth chart lists Guarantano as the starting quarterback for the team but Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt said he will be waiting until Saturday to announce who will get the start against the Tigers.
Leading the ground attack for the Vols was Eric Gray. He ended the night with 123 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries along with another 27 yards on three receptions. Thirty-one carries for Gray breaks a former career-high of 25 set last season against Vanderbilt. Surprisingly, Ty Chandler only attempted one rush for zero yards as freshman Jabari Small took over the role of secondary back with eight carries for 18 yards.
“Jabari (Small), to me, has done a really nice job the entire season,” Pruitt said. “If you look at his touches, his yards after contact, making people miss, he’s done a really nice job with that.”
The Volunteer offense will now be going up against an Auburn defense that gives up the fourth least amount of points per game in the SEC and gave up just 11 points to LSU in their last game. In the game against LSU, Auburn produced four sacks and three turnovers including a fumble returned for a touchdown by Christian Tutt.
“That’s just what Auburn football, Auburn defense, what we’re built upon,” Auburn safety Jordyn Peters said. “Making plays on the ball, creating turnovers, creating havoc basically…. Just to get those, whether they get called back or not, that’s still going to put fear in anybody’s hearts once they start seeing turnovers. Just our defense can run around to the ball. That causes a lot of frustrations for offenses.”
On offense, sophomore quarterback Bo Nix leads the Tiger charge. Nix is coming off of a career game throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 18-for-24 passing along with 81 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. His favorite wide receiver targets of Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove combined for 258 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Freshman Tank Bigsby leads the Auburn ground game. He finished his last outing with 71 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. This season he has shined as a freshman ranking seventh in total rushing yards in the SEC.
Auburn is favored to win by 10.5 points against Tennessee. The last time the teams met, Pruitt led a sinking Vols team to a road win against the Tigers in his first season. However, Auburn owns the all-time series 28-22-3.
Ryan Sylvia, assistant sports editor – Auburn 34 Tennessee 13
The Tennessee defensive secondary will not be able to contain the athletic Auburn receivers and Nix will find connections with them for three touchdown throws. On offense, the Vols will struggle to gain any momentum and multiple quarterbacks will get time on the field. Gray will once again receive a high workload resulting in another 100+ yard rushing game, but it will not matter as Tennessee will face their fifth straight loss.
Game Time and Coverage
Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. EST in Auburn, Alabama. The game airs on ESPN and TNJN will have more coverage following the game.
Edited by Gracie-Lee Strange
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Football Twitter (@Vol_Football)