Going into the season, this game looked to be one of the multiple games in the middle of the schedule that Tennessee didn’t have a chance to win. Now, with Auburn not looking like the team that beat top-10 Washington, and Tennessee showing steady, albeit glacial improvement every week, this game might actually be worth watching.
Auburn is coming off of a disappointing loss at Mississippi State. Tennessee is coming off a bye week preceded by an anticipated loss in Athens against the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs. While it would only make sense for a top-25 Auburn team to beat up on Tennessee, we all love college football for its upsets. Anything is possible.
Below are a handful of numbers that you should keep in mind going into the game. Some are good, some are bad, but all of them are indicative of how this game might play out.
The average yards per game Tennessee has produced so far. This is good for second-to-last in the SEC, two yards/game ahead of Arkansas. The bad news is obvious here: Tennessee just hasn’t found its best game on offense yet. Turnovers, a struggling offensive line, conservative play calling, and tentative quarterback play are all part of this pretty big problem.
The good news is Auburn is only one spot ahead in the SEC in 12th, averaging 364 yards per game. So that’s something, I guess.
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s adjusted QBR rating so far. His total at the end of last season was 67.2. It’s no secret that Stidham hasn’t been living up to the preseason expectations, and there are a handful of reasons for that. The big one is that Auburn’s offensive line might be just as bad as Tennessee’s, if not worse.
The first three games of the season, Stidham performed well in this metric. He notched a 72.5, 82.2, and 65.4 QBR against Washington, Alabama State, and LSU, respectively. He has averaged a 38.9 in the three games since.
For comparison, the Vols’ Jarrett Guarantano has averaged a 65.1 adjusted QBR so far this season.
The average amount of points Tennessee’s defense has surrendered to Power 5 opponents this season. For all the talk of Tennessee’s offense being the problem, there is a concerning lack of concern about the defense. Look, I get it, there’s extenuating circumstances to this stat. The West Virginia game was always going to be a problem. Florida got the ball on the right side of the field a lot. Georgia scored a few touchdowns late. But, all things considered, is it not a problem that opponents are consistently finding a way to hang 40 on Tennessee?
Auburn’s offense has been struggling, for the most part, averaging 21 PPG against Power 5 opponents. It will be interesting to see which unit can right the ship on Saturday.
The number of tackles for loss Auburn’s defense has through six games. That’s an insane stat and doesn’t bode well for Tennessee’s chances of running the ball consistently on Saturday. They’ve also produced 15 sacks on the season, which isn’t too bad either. Make no mistake, Auburn’s front seven is really, really good.
Add in the fact that they’ve also picked off opponents 8 times this season, the second most times in the SEC, and maybe Auburn’s whole defense is really good.
The last time Tennessee went into Auburn, Ala. and beat the Tigers. Sure, they’ve only been to Auburn twice since then, so it’s not as crazy as it seems. But it’s always fun to remember that fateful season 20 years ago. No. 3 Tennessee beat unranked Auburn 17-9 with touchdowns from two future NFL Pro Bowlers: running back Jamal Lewis and defensive tackle Shaun Ellis. Good times. Good times.
If you want a more in-depth breakdown of some of the statistics going into this game, check out Show Me My Opponent from our own Will Warren. Tennessee and Auburn kick off at Noon ET tomorrow on the SEC Network.