Auburn never got going last week against Mississippi State. The Tigers may have opened as three score favorites against Tennessee, but unless the team improves in all three phases of the game it is shaping up to be a long season.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Get 26 points ahead
This is kind of a strange one but it makes sense given the Vols season so far. Tennessee – who is coming off of a bye into this game – is 2-3 on the season. At first glance that doesn’t look awful, then you realize that the two wins have come against an FCS school in a beat down (59-3 over East Tennessee State) and over a UTEP team that hasn’t yet won a game in 2018.
Oh, and every one of Tennessee’s three losses has come by a 26 point margin.
The Vols opened the season losing 40-14 to West Virginia. Then – after their two wins – they lost back to back contests to Florida (47-21) and Georgia (38-12). It seems like however many points Tennessee gives up on defense, the offense can score just enough points to maintain that 26 point margin. Thus, that should be an Auburn goal on Saturday.
Get something going on offense
In order to reach that 26 point mark, Auburn has to get something going on offense. It is safe to say that both the rushing and passing aspects of the Auburn attack have fallen far below expectations in 2018 and in many ways it is hard to pick which has been worse.
Jarrett Stidham has been way off of his own pace from last year at the quarterback position. In four games against Power Five competition he has thrown just two touchdown passes. He has actually thrown for just five touchdowns all year, ranking ahead of only three other full time starters in the SEC. Not exactly what you would expect from a Gus Malzahn coached passer.
The running game hasn’t held up its end of the bargain either. Auburn ranks 12th in the conference in rushing yards per game with 163.8. The Tigers have also rushed for less than 100 yards in each of the last three games, becoming the first Auburn team to reach that dubious milestone this century.
Either the rushing attack or the passing game needs to break out.
Win on third down defensively
The most cut and dry statistic to Auburn winning this game comes on third down.
In each of its two losses the Tigers have allowed the opposition to convert on 40-percent or more of its third down tries. In the four wins, the opposition teams have failed to hit 40-percent in that category. Tennessee has not been spectacular on third down, converting on 36-percent of its chances.
Auburn may not have hit its goals so far in 2018, but the defensive line has been effective in getting into the backfield. If that trend continues on Saturday then the Tigers should pick up the win.