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Friday, October 2, 2009

Auburn-Tennessee breakdown

Well, I'm stuck in traffic, so any lengthy kind of breakdown between Auburn and Tennessee will have to be shelved. Here's what's going in tomorrow's paper (as you might have noticed, we've scaled back some of the categories for space issues:

Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC)
  • Where: Knoxville, Tenn.
  • When: 7:45 p.m., ESPN
  • Last meeting: Auburn 14, Tennessee 12, Sept. 27, 2008, in Auburn
Auburn: The Tigers continue to put up huge numbers, ranking third nationally in both scoring offense (45.3 ppg) and total offense (526.3 ypg). Quarterback Chris Todd has been on point the last two games, with nine touchdown passes. Auburn had seven as a team all of last season.

Tennessee: The Vols have a strong rushing game, led by Montario Hardesty, who leads the SEC in rushing yards with 121.3 yards per game, and an intriguing backup in freshman sensation Bryce Brown. But Tennessee also has embattled quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who has thrown six interceptions and only two touchdowns since the opener.

EDGE: Auburn
Auburn: The Tigers' offense has overshadowed some defensive shortcomings this year. Auburn is 69th nationally in scoring defense (24.3 ppg), 82nd in rushing defense (154.0 ypg) and 91st in third-down defense (43.1 percent). But Auburn has been good at disruption, with 12 turnovers forced that have led to 45 points.

Tennessee: Safety Eric Berry is one of the best around. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year leads the Vols with 31 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and one pick this year. Tennessee will have to make due without middle linebacker Nick Reveiz, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. Freshman Nigel Mitchell-Thornton will start in his place.

EDGE: Tennessee
Special teams:
Auburn: Other than Wes Byrum's perfect 6-for-6 start to the season, the Tigers have been a disaster on special teams. The kick return game has failed to provide a spark, the punt return unit has produced nothing but headaches, putting the ball on the ground four times, and Auburn ranks 102nd nationally in net punting (32.6 yards).

Tennessee: The Vols have had their share of troubles on kickoffs, ranking second to last in the SEC in both return yardage and kickoff coverage. Freshman Nu'Keese Richardson has done a solid job on punt returns, averaging 11.4 yards per return, and PK Daniel Lincoln rebounded from a 1-for-4 effort in the opener to make 8 of his last 10 field goals.

EDGE: Tennessee
Prediction: The Vols might have more edges on defense and special teams, but the Tigers' offensive advantage is so substantial that it should make up for the other two. I can't see Tennessee scoring enough to keep pace with Auburn, which, even in a tough environment against a solid defense, should put up good numbers. Auburn 30, Tennessee 16.

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