Should Auburn Be on Upset Alert on the Road at Tennessee?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 4, 2013

While Alabama and LSU will square off in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night in a Top 25 matchup at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Auburn will hit the road as a favorite in the SEC for the second time in as many weeks.

The Tigers will travel to Knoxville for a Saturday afternoon tilt with the Tennessee Volunteers as 7.5-point favorites, according to the consensus, one week after throttling Arkansas 35-17 in Fayetteville.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn
Auburn head coach Gus MalzahnNelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Gus Malzahn's crew sits at 8-1 (4-1 SEC), No. 9 in the BCS and in control of its own destiny in the race for Atlanta in the SEC West.

While the Tigers seemed unaffected last week at Arkansas, going on the road in the SEC is a tall order. Should they be on upset alert this week versus the Vols?


What's the one thing we know about Auburn? It can run the ball better than any team in the SEC.

The Tigers are averaging a whopping 306.22 yards per game on the ground—the sixth-best mark in the country and 69 yards per game more than Missouri, which is the second-best rushing team in the conference.

Tre Mason rushed for 168 yards and four touchdowns against Arkansas on Saturday night en route to SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors. He's rushed for 921 yards and 13 touchdowns this year—the third-most touchdowns on the ground in the country.

With a supporting cast consisting of speedster Corey Grant, bruiser Cameron Artis-Payne and dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall, Auburn is able to be multi-dimensional within the running game, making this a very dangerous offense.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
Tennessee head coach Butch JonesKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

What's the one thing we know about Tennessee? It can't stop the run.

The Vols rank last in the conference in rush defense, giving up an average of 201.67 yards per game on the ground. In their most recent game, head coach Butch Jones' crew gave up a 339 yards on the ground to Missouri on 54 carries—an average of 6.28 yards per carry.

Jones knows things have to improve in a hurry (via: @Vol_Football):

JONES: We better get tough and more physical in a hurry (on run defense).

— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) November 4, 2013

But while Auburn's ground game will be the focal point of the Tennessee defense, there are other ways Auburn's offense will exploit the Vols.

One of the primary issues Tennessee has faced on defense this year is with its defensive backs. The Vols routinely get burned on bubble screens to wide receivers where the receiver has to beat one man to get to pay dirt.

Alabama's Amari Cooper burned Tennessee on a wide receiver screen (below) in October, and Florida's Solomon Patton did the same with the Vols visited Florida in September.

That's another staple of a Malzahn-coached offense.

While Sammie Coates has been the wide receiver making waves on the Plains this season with his 638 receiving yards, five touchdowns and 26.58 yards-per-reception average—the best mark in the nation—Ricardo Louis, Quan Bray and Marcus Davis all play major roles in the short passing game.

The matchups just aren't there for Tennessee to pose a major threat to Auburn, despite playing inside the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium.

Auburn isn't flashy by any stretch of the imagination, but it's offense is wildly effective. To compound issues for Tennessee, its strengths play into obvious weaknesses of the Vols.

Upset? Not in this one.