Kevin Steele

Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has had to prepare for the possibility of seeing three different quarterbacks on offense for the Volunteers on Saturday

Following two bye weeks, one planned and one unplanned, the No. 23 Auburn Tigers hope to return to the gridiron this Saturday as they are set to play the unranked Tennessee Volunteers. 

The Tigers are 56-43-6 all-time against Tennessee, having lost their most recent matchup 30-24 in 2018. Despite Auburn’s most recent loss to Tennessee being at home, overall Auburn is 7-3 all-time  on The Plains, and the Tigers have not lost a game in Jordan-Hare this season.

Auburn comes in 4-2 with wins over Kentucky, Arkansas, Ole Miss and LSU  and losses to Georgia and South Carolina. The Tigers are coming off their best offensive performance of the season against LSU.

Tennessee comes in off of two bye weeks as well, but a 2-4 record with wins over Missouri and South Carolina and losses to Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas. 

The biggest question the Volunteers have going into this week is what will the quarterback situation look like come Saturday as senior starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano went down with an injury in the previous game and did not return. He was reported to have been practicing earlier this week but his status for the game remains unknown. He remains at the top of the released depth chart.

"You can tell he’s a veteran guy who has played a lot of ball. In our league, there’s nothing like experience, especially at the quarterback position," said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. 

 

Offense:  Create big plays and be balanced 

Auburn’s offense comes into the game ranked sixth in the SEC, averaging 405 yards per game. Tennessee’s defense is ranked eighth in the SEC and gives up an average of 408 yards. 

The Volunteer defense has been porous all season, giving up an average of 31 points per game. 

Statistically, Auburn should be able to move the ball once again. They have the home-field advantage, have had time for players to rest and heal, and had two more weeks to develop under Chad Morris right when it was needed. 

But college football is a sport where the numbers don’t always equal reality, and the Tigers need to prove that their success against LSU wasn’t a fluke. To do that, Auburn needs to continue to create big plays through the air. But the Tigers have showed that trying to force themselves to be throw-first just isn’t going to work, so the offensive line needs to buckle down and dominate the run game again. 

Given that the Tennessee defensive line hasn’t been anything to behold all season, that shouldn’t be a problem. However, just because it shouldn’t be doesn’t mean it won’t be. 

 

Defense: Force Tennessee to be one dimensional  

Auburn is ranked No. 6 in total defense, whereas Tennessee’s offense is the second-worst in the SEC, only beating out Kentucky by half-a-yard average per game. 

The Tigers have already faced the top offense in the SEC in Ole Miss, and the fourth-best offense in LSU, so Tennessee, especially given the rocky quarterback situation, should have this defense chomping at the bit. 

The Volunteers are downright bad, but to make sure that they don’t slip up, the Tigers need to create havoc for whichever quarterback takes the field. Tennessee is a fairly balanced offense, meaning they rely on the run just about as much as the pass. Should the defense succeed in taking away either of those elements, the offense will become one-dimensional, which is right where Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele wants the Vols to be.

 

Overall: Build consistency

So far, this Auburn squad has been frustrating to watch, and it has been frustrating because of its inconsistency. 

The talent is there to achieve great things and yet, more often than not, it feels like this Auburn group keeps shooting themselves in the foot. That narrative changed against LSU, but despite the dominating win, there have been plenty of times where Auburn has found success during a game or two in a season only to sputter out in bigger games. 

Statistically the Tigers should win. Covid will always play a factor, especially with the two teams having missed two weeks in a row, and a lot is still a mystery as to who will take the field and how progressed or regressed they will be. 

Fortunately for the Tigers, they will have their first night game of the season, so the atmosphere in Jordan-Hare Stadium, albeit limited due to capacity restrictions, will be more raucous than usual. The Tigers will look to find consistency, as long as they get to play Saturday.  

Auburn will host Tennessee in Jordan-Hare Stadium with kickoff set for 6 p.m. on the ESPN.  

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