By Dan Newman


Tennessee Pass-Offense vs. Auburn Pass-Defense
Edge: Tennessee

The Volunteer receiver-by-committee experiment is actually being led by somebody who's used to serving 'em rather than catching 'em. Reserve QB James Banks leads the way with 16 catches, 223 yards and a team-high four touchdowns.

It feels like senior QB Casey Clausen has been around forever. He is well on his way to setting career marks in passing yardage and touchdowns by season's end. He hasn't lit up the scoreboard yet against any single opponent, but he has been consistent and has spread the wealth around quite a bit. He'll have to continue to do so if the Vols have any shot of maintaining their perfect record.

Look for Clausen to continue this season's controlled consistency while trying to spread Auburn's secondary, and eventually going for a few long balls to some of his lesser-knowns.

Sophomore DB Kevin Hobbs has the only two INTs for Auburn. As a unit, the defense gives up less than 200 passing yards per game. People still tend to remember the 23-0 loss to USC to open. But even on that day, Matt Leinart , Carson's replacement, only went off for 192 yards and one touchdown. Still, the Tigers have nine freshmen in the secondary, some of whom play regularly. It's highly unlikely that a veteran QB like Clausen will think twice about the secondary. At least at the outset, I'd expect the Tigers to play a bit tentative against an experienced veteran like Clausen, perhaps even showing some nickel and dime sets in the secondary. Perhaps, if they can keep the game close, look for the Auburn secondary to gamble a bit and start blitzing some, something that previous opponents have not done much of this season.


Auburn Pass-Offense vs. Tennessee Pass-Defense
Edge: Auburn

QB Jason Campbell is coming off of one of his best outings as the signal-caller for Auburn. On Saturday, the junior completed 12-of-13 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown as the Tigers defeated Western Kentucky. Just as Tennessee does, inversely Auburn does not have one main threat at the receiver spot. Senior Jeris McIntyre leads the way with 205 yards receiving and two touchdowns. If Auburn wants a chance to make things happen, Campbell is going to have to find somebody other than McIntyre. Expect the playbook to be opened up a bit more, or else the Tigers could be in trouble.

The Tennessee defense has allowed just four passing touchdowns, three of which came from pass-happy Marshall. Coach Philip Fulmer's teams have been known to play the opposing team's receivers very tightly, thus not often allowing the deep ball. Being that Auburn has an experienced QB in Campbell, look for Auburn to exploit the Volunteers relative inexperience in the secondary (senior Rashad Baker has the most experience, but there is a big dropoff after that). Baker is going to need some help from his younger teammates, and if Campbell is able to connect on some long balls early, look for Baker and company to blitz.


Tennessee Run-Offense vs. Auburn Run-Defense
Slight Edge: Tennessee

The tradition of strong Tennessee running attacks continues with fellow juniors Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis. After starting red hot against non-conference foes Fresno State and Marshall, Houston has come back down to earth with consecutive games of 25 and 86 rushing yards. But since he is averaging over 100 yards per game, he needs to be considered the definite threat he can be. While Houston leads in yards, Davis is in the lead in touchdowns (5). Like his ally Houston, Davis started out very well in his first few games but will now be coming off of a season-low effort (12 rushing yards). Look for Davis to get his redemption against the defensive line of Auburn.

Since giving up over 200 yards of rushing in its first two games against USC and Georgia Tech, the defense has only given up double digits in its last two, including just 48 yards against Western Kentucky. But that was Western Kentucky. More significantly, they've allowed a mere two rushing TDs all season. Still, the two-headed monster of Houston and Davis should prove to be too much for the Tigers defense to handle. Expect Auburn to continue its staunch play on the D-line and crowd eight (and even nine) men in the box to thwart effectively, especially in the red zone.


Auburn Run-Offense vs. Tennessee Run-Defense
Edge: Auburn

Auburn RBs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown have combined for nearly 500 yards and four TDs. Brown's numbers have gotten better with each game. Williams, having come back from season ending surgery midway through last season, came through with a season-high 70 rushing yards last week. If both men can continue to improve their play, especially against a tougher opponent like Tennessee, they make the difference on Saturday night. Realistically, look for both men to play more of a supporting role early, but as the game wears on, they will be called upon to wear down the front four of Tennessee.

The Vol defense has been anything but porous in the red zone, letting up just two rushing TDs. That's about the only thing they've done right, though. Twice, they have given up over 200 yards rushing, including a whopping 294 yards against Marshall, a team known more for its passing savvy. Overall, the run-defense has given up many long gains, especially in the middle. It's almost as if UTenn wake up when the opponent gets within striking distance, but otherwise they are not real focused. If the Vols have any chance of winning the war in the trenches, they are going to have to be at their best. Being that the aforementioned secondary is weak, look for the experienced Tennessee front-seven to blitz aplenty.


Special Teams
Edge: Tennessee

Volunteer freshman James Wilhoit has been a bit spotty on his FGAs (5-for-9), but he is a perfect 12-for-12 on PATs. Teammate Dustin Colquitt is one of the top punters in the nation thus far, averaging 49.2, including a 67-yarder against Florida. Something that stands out on Tennessee's special teams units is the play of Rashad Baker. It's not his stats, but the fact that he is one of the best, period. An injury would not only hurt the defense, but the special teams unit as well, something that the Vols can ill-afford to suffer, especially now that the conference schedule is well underway. It's not often you can say this, but the punter could be the most dangerous weapon.

Due to two losses that produced a combined three points, Auburn has not had much of a chance to show prowess on the special teams. But when they have had an opportunity, they have not shown very much, as evidenced by the mere 37.9 yards per punt average of freshman Kody Bliss. The lone bright spot on special teams has been the play of punt returner Tre Smith, who is averaging 10.9 yards. Even if the Tigers have ample occasions to show their stuff, you have to give major props to Colquitt, who is a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, annually given to the nation's top punter


Final Thoughts
For a team picked by many to make it as far as the Sugar Bowl, the Auburn Tigers had as bad of a start as a team could possibly have. Getting out of the gate at 0-2 made many fear a season similar to the 1998 campaign, when hopes were high following a 10-3 record, and then the team only managed to go 3-8 (in the process, Terry Bowden was out as head coach). Now, though, the ship seems to be righted as the team has won its last two games convincingly, albeit against far inferior opponents Vanderbilt (a perennial SEC doormat) and I-AA Western Kentucky. Having the game at Jordan-Hare Stadium should help.

While Tennessee is a perfect 4-0 and is having a great bounce back year, they have not defeated foes convincingly. The Vols only won by ten against Marshall, a team that is DEFINITELY in the midst of a very down season - they lost to Troy State and Toledo, but somehow took Kansas State in Manhattan (somebody, please explain these kids and their inconsistency to me). They also needed overtime to take out South Carolina.

In the end, this game could come down to which running back tandem succeeds most. As we've already seen, both teams have backs that can get the job done. But I think that Tennessee has so much more riding on this game (SEC supremacy, a shot at the Sugar Bowl, amongst other things). The Vols have beaten the Tigers in their last three meetings. There's just something about tradition that I like so much.


PICK: Tennessee 28, Auburn 13