It’s homecoming on Rocky Top this week, and it couldn’t come a moment too soon for a Tennessee football team that suffered back-to-back losses on the road by a combined point margin of 63 points against Alabama and Missouri. Both teams lead their respective divisions in the SEC east, and control their own destiny from here on out.
The Vols return home for the first time since their ground-breaking victory over South Carolina, and for the seventh time in eight weeks will welcome yet another ranked opponent. Tennessee will host the No. 9 Auburn Tigers (8-1, 4-1) Saturday, Nov. 9 at noon on ESPN.
Before their victory over South Carolina just a few weeks ago the Vols had lost 19 straight to ranked opponents. A win Saturday would be the first time the program has defeated back-to-back ranked opponents at home since 2007 when they triumphed over Georgia (35-14) and South Carolina (27-24) en route to their last SEC championship game.
Auburn currently owns a five-game winning streak over the Vols dating back to 2003. The last time the two teams met in 2009 both teams ironically had first-year head coaches. The Tigers won that game in Knoxville, Tenn. 26-22.
The Tigers have a rushing attack much like Oregon, who torched the Tennessee defense for 216 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground back in September. Auburn is ranked sixth in the nation in total rushing yards while the Vols rushing defense is ranked 101st in defending the run.
Tre Mason, ranked third in the SEC and 15th in the nation in rushing, leads the way for Auburn’s rushing attack. He’s accumulated 921 yards and 13 touchdowns through nine games this season, but he’s not the only one who can march the Tigers down the field with relative ease. Junior quarterback Nick Marshall will be a lot to handle for the Vols as well.
Marshall has 520 yards rushing with five touchdowns on the ground, and averages almost six yards per rush. Tennessee has had their fair share of difficulty handling dual threat quarterbacks this season. To quarterbacks alone the Vols have given up 457 yards rushing this season, most recently 114 yards to Missouri’s Maty Mauk. On average quarterbacks who rush against the Vols will gain nearly six yards per rush, and through nine games have scored a total of five touchdowns while still adding statistics through the air.
If the Vols hope to end their losing streak to Auburn, and pull off one last upset in head coach Butch Jones’ first year they’ll have to tighten things up in their rushing defense.
Offensively, true-freshman Josh Dobbs will make his second consecutive start at quarterback. Through the one-and-a-half games he’s played in Dobbs has completed 31-out-of-54 passes for 315 yards, but has no touchdowns and two interceptions to show for it. Lucky for Dobbs, though, Auburn is ranked 93rd in the nation in passing yards allowed.
This will be Tennessee’s school record seventh and final ranked opponent of the regular season. After Saturday the Vols will host Vanderbilt, and travel to Kentucky to finish out the 2013 season. The 4-5 Vols still need victories in two of the next three games, at least, to advance to a bowl game for the first time since 2010.