The Road to Rocky Top.
Auburn defenders must contain a scrambling quarterback this week.
War Eagle, everybody! This week’s refreshing cool mornings definitely have me thinking about college Football! FINALLY, fall seems to be here. For a while, Auburn’s college football season was starting to look like monsoon season in New Delhi! This Saturday, Auburn will travel to the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, to play the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, and should enjoy some game temperatures in the low 60s and upper 50s.
Knoxville hasn’t exactly been a hospitable place for the Tigers, historically. Auburn has 9 wins, 14 losses, and 2 ties against Tennessee in Knoxville, over the years. The two teams only played 7 times in their first 50+ years, but in 1956, Auburn and Tennessee started having an annual grudge match. Usually, this was fairly early in the season. The winner of the game would be in the SEC title hunt. The loser would be hoping that they could string together enough wins for a bowl game. The annual series lasted from 1956 till 1991, then became a casualty of Southeastern Conference expansion.
This year, this game is far more critical to Auburn than it is to Tennessee. Any Auburn title hopes will be dashed if they lose. Although Tennessee already has five losses, their November schedule is back-loaded with Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and they can still reach a bowl with wins over both. There have been a number of Tennessee teams over the years that have started with 3 to 5 losses early, then rebounded to finish strong. The 1986 Vols started the season 2-5, only to win five in a row down the stretch, setting up a 10 win campaign the following year. Tennessee won their last 5 straight in 1988, after starting the season 0-6. In 1994, UT was forced to turn to freshman quarterback Peyton Manning, and started the season 1-3, only to rebound with 7 wins in 8 games. 2000 saw a Vol team start 1-3, and finish 8-4.
Auburn has started the season 8-1, but faces a fairly serious gauntlet, from here on out. Auburn’s schedule always ends with Georgia and Alabama, or as Pat Dye called it, “Amen Corner.” This year’s Amen Corner began with an 18-point win in Fayetteville, and continues this Saturday in Knoxville.
In the past, a number of high flying Auburn teams have suffered season-spoiling setbacks in Knoxville. In 1957 and 1958, the Auburn Tigers had no losses, only 1 tie, and held opponents to a total of 90 points in 20 games. (4.5 points per game, given up!) The 1959 Tigers opened the season in Knoxville, took a 3-0 loss to the Vols, and slumped to 7-3. In 1969, a 45-19 loss in Knoxville cost the Tigers the SEC Championship. At the end of 1972, the team called “the Amazin’s” had capped an outstanding 4-year run in which the Tigers had won 36 games, and lost only 8. Auburn went to Knoxville undefeated in 1973, but took a 21-0 whipping. Auburn would finish 2-5 in the SEC, that year. Auburn’s 1975 team, Shug Jordan’s last, was expected to contend for a national title, but a 21-17 loss in Knoxville heralded a dismal 3-6-2 finish to the season. In 1985, Auburn was flying high at the number ONE spot in the polls, but a trip to Knoxville, and a 38-20 loss derailed that team’s championship hopes. The Tigers finished at 8-4, in 1985. In 1991, the Tigers were 3-0 headed into Knoxville, but gave up over 500 yards in a 30-21 loss. The 1991 Tigers slumped to 5-6. In 1999, Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers went to Knoxville with a 3-1 record, and many folks thought it should have been 4-0, since we had just blown the overtime game against Ole Miss. A 24-0 loss revealed the early season “imposters,” as Gene Chizik used to say, and the Tigers finished 5-6.
Auburn has lost in Knoxville, though, and regrouped. In the 1989 game in Knoxville, the Tigers looked as inept in the first half as any team in the Dye era. After the 21-14 loss, Auburn would rebound to finish with a 6-1 SEC record, and a share of the SEC title.
Wins in Knoxville have been few and far between, in recent years, but they do herald great things for Auburn, when they happen. Auburn opened the 1957 season with a 7-0 win in Knoxville, and the game signaled that the Tigers had ARRIVED, under Shug Jordan. An SEC Championship and an AP national title followed. The 1963 Tigers squad eeked out a 23-19 win in Knoxville, went on to beat Bama 10-8, and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl. In 1971, a dramatic, come from behind 10-9 victory over the Vols in Knoxville catapulted Auburn to a 9-0 start, and was the foundation for Pat Sullivan’s Heisman Trophy campaign. It would be a long 12 years till the Tigers won in Knoxville, again. The 1983 Auburn Tigers came into Knoxville with a 1-1 record, and Tiger quarterback Randy Campbell had completed only 3 of 26 passes on the season. Campbell and the Tigers broke out of the slump in Knoxville, and the Tigers romped, 37-14, en route to the SEC title and a #3 finish in the AP poll. After that win, the next Auburn victory in Knoxville didn’t happen for another 21 years. The 2004 Auburn Tigers came into Knoxville undefeated, and feasted upon a pair of freshman Vol quarterbacks, for a rousing 34-10 win that catapulted the Tigers to a 13-0 season, an SEC title, and a number 2 ranking in the AP poll. The 2009 Tigers held off a late Vol comeback, and won their fifth straight game, 26-22.
The key matchup in this game will be Auburn’s league-leading rushing attack, vs. Tennessee’s last place rushing defense. Look for Tennessee to load the box, because if they don’t slow Auburn down, they have no chance in this game. The Auburn defense must get pressure on young Vol freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs this season is a 57 percent passer, but only for 5.8 yards per pass. By comparison, Nick Marshall has hit 59 percent of his passes for Auburn, for a healthy 8.3 yards per pass. Dobbs has no TD passes, and 2 interceptions. Marshall has 7 TD tosses vs. 4 interceptions. Both quarterbacks can hurt a defense with their legs. Dobbs is averaging 6.4 yards per carry for the Vols. Marshall’s rushing average is 5.8. What’s worrisome is that Auburn only tallied 1 sack and 2 quarterback hurries against Brandon Allen of the Razorbacks last week, and Allen isn’t exactly Mr. Speed. Tennessee has a veteran offensive line, and will protect young Dobbs pretty well. Auburn cannot afford to allow him to become comfortable back there, or this game will be another high-scoring affair.
The key to this game, as often is the case with Auburn in Knoxville, will likely be turnovers. Tennessee has been fairly average on turnovers, this year, throwing 12 interceptions and losing 6 fumbles in 9 games. Auburn has only 6 interceptions and 7 fumbles lost in the same period. However, Auburn has a staggering 20 total fumbles, and fortune has definitely smiled on the Tigers having lost only 7 of them. Neither team can afford to be generous, in this game. A single turnover in the wrong place could win the game for the other team.
We’ll be here all day Saturday, watching another great weekend of SEC football. This one is an 11:00 AM Central kickoff, on ESPN. Auburn has traditionally struggled with a morning kickoff on the road, but as coach Malzhan says, it’s a new day. Let’s hope the morning jinx is a thing of the past! We’ll have an open thread up here at TrackEmTigers.com, early Saturday morning. As always, feel free to participate, and share your thoughts.
War Eagle! Beat the Vols!