The Tennessee Vols (4-5, 1-4 SEC) will play host to the seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers (8-1, 4-1 SEC) this Saturday in the annual Homecoming game.
This will be the second straight week the Vols have to take on a top 10 “Tiger” team, losing at number 10 Missouri last week. It also marks the fifth straight game Tennessee has played an opponent that was ranked in the top 10 in at least one of the two major polls.
The Vols are reeling of late, having dropped two blowouts on the road. However, Tennessee will be back in Neyland Stadium for the first time since the upset of South Carolina.
A big key for the Vols will be the continued development of freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs. Dobbs showed flashes against Missouri, throwing for the most yards of any Volunteer quarterback this year and running for the most yards of any UT quarterback since Tee Martin in 1999. There were moments though when his inexperience was evident, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble.
Dobbs will have to continue to make plays, but he has to cut down on the mistakes. He and the rest of the Vols must finish when they move the ball into Auburn territory. If Dobbs can take care of the ball and get some help from his receivers, they should be more efficient in opposing territory than they were against Missouri.
The Vols will also need a stronger showing on the ground. Starting running back Rajion Neal only had eight yards last week, by far a season low. The Tigers of Auburn are not quite as stiff on the ground as the Tigers of Missouri, so Neal, Marlin Lane and the offensive line should have the opportunity for a much stronger showing.
For the Vols to have any chance, the defense is going to have to pull a 180. The Vols cannot put the pressure of a shootout on a true freshman quarterback with young targets. Tennessee was gashed on the ground last week, giving up 339 yards rushing with 114 of those coming from quarterback Maty Mauk, allowing him to also hurt them through the air by making plays out of the pocket.
Auburn leads the SEC by a wide margin and ranks sixth in the country in rushing yards per game with an average of 306.2. Running back Tre Mason leads the SEC in touchdowns scored and ranks third in rushing yards per game. To make matters worse, they have three running backs with over 400 yards rushing this year with Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant averaging seven and 9.9 yards per rush respectively.
Quarterback Nick Marshall, who has run for 520 yards this season, is exactly the type of quarterback that has given Tennessee fits all season. The Vols will have to be dramatically better at containing the quarterback in the pocket than they have been all season in order to stay competitive. They also can’t allow explosive plays through the air when Marshall scrambles. Their ability to contain Marshall could be the most crucial factor in the game.
Tennessee will try to earn their 70th Homecoming win when they do battle with Auburn Saturday at 12 pm in Knoxville. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Edited by: Will Lomas