The Auburn Tigers will be hoping to get back on the winning track when they host the Tennessee Volunteers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Auburn is coming off a disappointing setback at Mississippi State. The Volunteers have struggled the whole season, with a 2-3 record that includes a trio of blowout losses.
Grasping for hope
You know things are going poorly when a 38-12 loss is an encouraging sign for a once-proud program. But that appears to be the case for Tennessee, which is hoping to maintain momentum–or something–on the heels of a bye week that followed its 26-point setback against Georgia. In fairness to first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s team, it also fell to West Virginia by 26 points and to Florida by 26 points. And the Bulldogs are better than both of those teams; plus it was on the road. Moreover, the Volunteers cut a 24-0 deficit to 12 points before Georgia tacked on two more touchdowns.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Pruitt said after Tennessee fell to 0-2 in the SEC. “We’ve said all along we’re trying to fix Tennessee, so we’re not going to change that (during the bye week).”
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) October 2, 2018
Improvement may start with quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. The sophomore threw for two touchdowns and was not picked off against Georgia after throwing two INTs and no TDs during his previous outing in the loss to Florida. Tennessee also fared decently enough on defense, preventing the Bulldogs from producing any scores through the air. UGA’s running game dominated, but doesn’t it against every opponent?
Where’s the offense?
Auburn’s offense has struggled this season and it has been especially futile in the red zone. This is not complicated: the Tigers simply have a problem putting the ball in the endzone. They have produced a grand total of one touchdown in their last six quarters against SEC opponents, including zero in last Saturday’s 23-9 setback at Mississippi State. Auburn’s offense is averaging a modest 21.8 points against FBS opposition and has gone for a mediocre six touchdowns in three SEC outings.
“The reality is after six games the young guys aren’t inexperienced anymore,” head coach Gus Malzahn noted. “We’ve got to start showing improvement. I expect that we will…. We’ve got to do a better job on third down…. Especially with the third-and-shorts–we had two third-and-shorts (against Mississippi State) that we didn’t convert. That can’t happen.”
The Tigers went almost three full quarters before they converted a third-down attempt against the Bulldogs (finished 3-for-14 on third downs). They were on the field for just 18 minutes in the entire game and gained an anemic 79 yards in the first half. Auburn finished with 90 rushing yards, marking the first time in 20 years that it has failed to hit 100 yards on the ground in three consecutive games. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey called only 21 running plays–the lowest ever by a Malzahn-coached team in his 13 college seasons.
The Auburn Tigers are:
- 16-5 ATS in their last 21 games against teams with losing records
- 3-1-1 ATS in their last five home games against teams with losing road records
- 6-2-1 ATS in their last nine October games
The Tennessee Volunteers are:
- 2-6 ATS in their last eight overall
- 1-4 ATS in their last five games against the SEC
- 4-10 ATS in their last 14 games following a loss by more than 20 points
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
This begins a streak of three consecutive opponents for Tennessee that are currently in the top 10. So the Volunteers do not want to look behind them (a 2-3 record does not look any good) and they also will not want to look ahead. Auburn, meanwhile, ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring defense–giving up a mere 14.3 points per game. At the same time, Tennessee is 12th in the SEC in scoring at 26 points per game. That does not bode well for the visitors, who have lost each of their three games against Power 5 opponents this season by exactly 26 points.
Prediction: Auburn Tigers
Full-Game Total Pick
There may be some ways in which Tennessee’s offense can improve. The offense would benefit from the run game getting back on track after the Volunteers recorded a season-low 66 rushing yards against Georgia. And that can happen if they feed the rock to Ty Chandler more often, as he is averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Receiver Jauan Jennings, meanwhile, has 12 receptions for 136 yards and stands to get more targets–if UT is smart. The over is 8-3 in the Volunteers’ last 11 on the road, 5-2 in their last seven against the SEC, and 13-5 in their last 18 against winning opponents. It is also 11-4 in the Tigers’ last 15 against losing opponents and 5-1 in their last six in October. Look for this one to go over the total.