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DWWD – no time like the present

October 2, 2009

Auburn travels to Knoxville for the beginning of what a lot of folks call, “the real season.” Or as Coach Chizik might say, ” to reveal the imposters.” No matter your personal feelings on who Auburn has beaten to this point, it would be hard to look at the schedule and on the morning of October 2nd, say, “the worst is behind us.”

This weekend Auburn starts a stretch run of all SEC October. Three of the five games are on the oppositions campus. The return trips to Jordan-Hare are against a Kentucky team that is as unpredictable as preseason Top 5’s and an Ole Miss team that all jokes aside, takes its personality from the Nutt. Yeah, unpredictable too.

None of that matters this morning. Or tomorrow. Because I promise you, if it matters, Eric Berry will be waiting to clean your clock and reset your pain extraction level to intolerant.

My virtual Garmin says the easy road to Knoxville is to look at their record and say, “2-2 with a loss to a Pac 10 team and THE FLORIDA = we are going to beat the Volunteers!” And while that may be the easy road there, the road back will be littered with all the broken face guards, shredded jerseys and twisted Under Armour shoes that go “click-clack,” that Monte’s defense can tear apart.

So what road does Auburn take that, a) gets them to Knoxville without any security concerns, b) takes the 90k+ fur hat wearing UT faithful out of the game, c) GETS THE WIN!, and d) gets Auburn home in time to leave for Wal-Mart town? I think the answer is simple: RUN the ball on offense, limit the run on defense and for the love of all that is holy and right in the world, hang onto the ball on punts!

Auburn Offense.

We face a Tennessee defense that quite literally, is the best we’ll face until the day after Thanksgiving. You’ll hear a lot about their injury problems, but UT has recruited better than Auburnwell over the past several years and have Talent O’Plenty. You can’t ignore the aforementioned Mr. Berry and sadly, he’ll be lined up against our rising star and QB Chris Todd favorite, Darvin Adams all night.

Where Auburn can take control of this game is by running the ball. Yes, the O-line will need to block on both sides of center unlike last week. Receivers will need to block downfield and the unnamed combo of Tate and McCalebb will need to pop a few extra aspirin pre-game. Tennessee’s defense is not just going to stack the box, they’re going to fill it like mom’s care package to an overseas soldier. We’ll get all the Full Monte we want when the senior Kiffin puts one-on-one coverage on our wide-outs and bum rushes the backfield. Pull this one off several times early, the crowd goes berserk and we’ll see how long Coach Chizik and Malzahn furiously chew their gum before needing a mid-game jaw replacement.

UT’s defensive weakness is a bit Shakespearean in that it is also their greatest strength. If Coach Malzahn can draw up the right amount of plays that capitalizes on their speed, aggressiveness and downright meanness, this is a team that can give up 20+ yard plays and keep them backing up. THE FLORIDA ran the ball to the tune of just over 200 yards, but had a couple of 20 to 23 yard runs at crucial times. Florida didn’t pass the ball for large chunks, but it was effective because it was short to mid-range, high percentage passes and just enough to keep UT from emptying the stands on third down to flood the Florida backfield.

I think Auburn is going to find the running game a tedious and drawn out process, similarly to West Virginia. The question will then become what does Chris Todd and Coach Malzahn do about the downfield passing attack against a more than capable UT secondary?

Auburn Defense.

Defensively, and quite honestly, Auburn has faced much more potent attacks so far. Crompton is cursed with the practice-superstar-gameday-dud moniker for good and proven reasons. Hardesty and company are flat out running back studs. Auburn’s front has to stay disciplined in lanes and assignments. Corner pressure applied at the right times, not every down, but key downs on Tennessee’s side of the 50 will bring turnovers. Crompton’s troubles have all come inside the Tennessee 40. Tennessee’s success has all come by running the ball to mid-field, mixing in play action, and running the ball into the end zone. If Auburn can slow down the rush and force Crompton to throw in the shadows of his own end zone the turnover game becomes option rich for AU.

The question for Auburn’s defense again comes with how well they manage to keep the ball in front of them and break down and tackle. If that doesn’t happen, and Tennessee gets their stable of running backs turned loose, Crompton becomes a non-factor and Auburn needs him to be under pressure to perform in order to get off the field and give the Auburn offense every opportunity it can get.

Auburn Special Teams.

I seriously have nothing good to say about this area. In what will surely be misread as a negative nanny comment, but is meant matter-of-fact, Coach Boulware appears to be the only blight on an otherwise impressive set of assistant coaches going into Week 5.

Overall, Auburn should win this game. Tennessee may be favored by 2 points, but I think that is just a nod to how ferocious Neyland Stadium can be in general. Add in a night game, ESPN coverage and an almost must-win scenario for UT to stay relevant for something other than a reality show, and Neyland becomes worth more than a touchdown by its own right.

Auburn and Tennessee has a lot of fond memories for anyone who came of age in the days of the pre division SEC (*ahem* Joe Auburn included). This contest should live up to the hype and be a formidable test for both teams as well as a turning point for the season – perhaps not 2004 style, but an indicator of just how good this Auburn team can be in year one of the Coach Chizik era. I look for Auburn to scrape through the game, introduce a couple of new wrinkles on offense and pull away in the 4th quarter. War Eagle!

Auburn 24, Tennessee 17.

UPDATE: Jerry of course does some very nice and detailed thoughts in Episode One and then follows that with a prediction and more info in Episode Two. Great stuff in both, check ’em out.

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