When Auburn departs for Nashville today it will be flying into a storm few could have seen coming. Who would have guessed back in the summer that Saturday night's contest would turn out to be the biggest game in Vanderbilt history? There's little doubt now. It's the biggest athletic event in school history and Auburn is the guest of honor.
With ESPN GameDay originating from Nashville and a national television audience looking on Saturday night, Vanderbilt will be looking to go 5-0 for the first time since 1943. There are storylines galore on both sides that make this game one of the more intriguing matchups of the year.
Conventional wisdom and some pretty exact stats suggest this game should be akin to watching paint dry - another defensive struggle in the spirit of the Miss State and Tennessee contests. But dig deeper and the stats tell more.
This will perhaps be the only time Auburn faces an offense that may be worse than what they see in the mirror. Vandy ranks 116th out of 119 Division I schools in passing offense. They have attempted only 57 passes all year.
But one thing they don't do is make mistakes. They have not thrown a single interception this year and lead the nation in fewest penalties with 11. Lee Ziemba jumps off sides that many times in the first half. When they do score they get it done on the ground, averaging 202 yards rushing per game.
Like Auburn, the Commodores win with defense and they have a solid one. They have 10 interceptions already this season and lead the nation in turnover margin (+2.25). Keep your eye on safety Ryan Hamilton; he set the school record with three interceptions against Ole Miss.
Look for the outcome to be determined on how well Auburn moves the ball on the ground. The Tigers average just 156 yards rushing per game. So far, Vanderbilt's opponents are averaging only 124 yards a game rushing. They will certainly force Auburn to go through the air to get its points. If Auburn can't run, it could be a long night.
Here are some more quick facts to get you ready for Saturday night...
- Auburn has not lost to Vanderbilt since the 1955 Gator Bowl.
- Auburn is 12-5 against nationally-ranked teams since the 2004 season.
- Auburn will be part of the ESPN GameDay location for the second time this season and 10th time overall. The Tigers are 5-4 when playing in GameDay's on-site game.
- Auburn leads the nation in opponents' third-down conversion percentage, surrendering just 11 first downs in 76 attempts (14.5 percent).
- Auburn ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense (10.6), 11th in total defense (246.0), 12th in pass defense (153.8) and 18th in rushing defense (92.2).
- Sen'Derrick Marks leads the SEC and ranks tied for 15th nationally with eight tackles for loss.
- Antonio Coleman leads the SEC with four sacks and ranks second behind Marks in tackles for loss with seven.
- Robert Dunn ranks sixth nationally in punt returns (21.4).
- Auburn has won 13 straight in the series since Vanderbilt's last victory in the 1955 Gator Bowl.
- The Tigers have won the last six meetings in Nashville since Vanderbilt's last win in 1950.
- Vanderbilt won eight consecutive games in the series from 1929 to 1950.
- Auburn has averaged 36.4 points during its 13-game winning streak against Vanderbilt.
- The Tigers have held Vanderbilt to 10 points or less in nine of the 13 victories.
- Auburn has rushed for over 200 yards in nine of the last 13 meetings, and had at least four rushing touchdowns in six of those 13 games, including the last two.