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Two Teams at a Crossroads

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Memorable tunes from an Acid youth!

 

     War Eagle, everybody! A pair of refreshing cool mornings definitely have me thinking about college Football! FINALLY, fall seems to be here. For a while, Auburn's college football season was starting to look like monsoon season in New Delhi! This Saturday, Auburn will travel to the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, to play the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, and should enjoy some game temperatures in the low 60s and upper 50s.

 

     Knoxville hasn't exactly been a hospitable place for the Tigers, historically. Auburn has 8 wins, 14 losses, and 2 ties against Tennessee in Knoxville, over the years. The two teams only played 7 times in their first 50+ years, but in 1956, Auburn and Tennessee started having an annual grudge match. Usually, this was fairly early in the season. The winner of the game would be in the SEC title hunt. The loser would be hoping that they could string together enough wins for a bowl game. The annual series lasted from 1956 till 1991, then became a casualty of Southeastern Conference expansion.

 

     This year, I honestly don't think this is a make-or-break game for either team. Most rational Auburn fans know that a loss on the road at some point in October is likely, with this team. Like Auburn, the Vols are in year one of a rebuilding process. Although Tennessee already has two losses, their November schedule is back-loaded with Memphis, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. There have been a number of Tennessee teams over the years that have started with 3 or 4 losses early, then rebounded to finish strong. The 1986 Vols started the season 2-5, only to win five in a row down the stretch, setting up a 10 win campaign the following year. Tennessee won their last 5 straight in 1988, after starting the season 0-6. In 1994, UT was forced to turn to freshman quarterback Peyton Manning, and started the season 1-3, only to rebound with 7 wins in 8 games. 2000 saw a Vol team start 1-3, and finish 8-4.

 

     Auburn has started the season 4-0, but faces a fairly serious gauntlet, from here on out. Auburn's schedule always ends with Georgia and Alabama, or as Pat Dye called it, "Amen Corner." The Tigers face road dates with Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia, in coming weeks, and home games against Kentucky, Ole Miss, Furman, and Alabama.

 

Heavy history, after the jump!

 

 

     In the past, a number of high flying Auburn teams have suffered season-spoiling setbacks in Knoxville. In 1957 and 1958, the Auburn Tigers had no losses, only 1 tie, and held opponents to a total of 90 points in 20 games. (4.5 points per game, given up!) The 1959 Tigers opened the season in Knoxville, took a 3-0 loss to the Vols, and slumped to 7-3. In 1969, a 45-19 loss in Knoxville cost the Tigers the SEC Championship. The end of 1972, and the team called "the Amazin's" capped an outstanding 4-year run in which the Tigers had won 36 games, and lost only 8. Auburn went to Knoxville undefeated, but took a 21-0 whipping. Auburn would finish 2-5 in the SEC, that year. Auburn's 1975 team, Shug Jordan's last, was expected to contend for a national title, but a 21-17 loss in Knoxville heralded a dismal 3-6-2 finish to the season. In 1985, Auburn was flying high at the number ONE spot in the polls, but a trip to Knoxville, and a 38-20 loss derailed that team's championship hopes. The Tigers finished at 8-4, in 1985. In 1991, the Tigers were 3-0 headed into Knoxville, but gave up over 500 yards in a 30-21 loss. The 1991 Tigers slumped to 5-6. In 1999, Tommy Tuberville's Tigers went to Knoxville with a 3-1 record, and many folks thought it should have been 4-0, since we had just blown the overtime game against Ole Miss. A 24-0 loss revealed the early season "imposters," as Gene Chizik would say, and the Tigers finished 5-6.

 

     Auburn has lost in Knoxville, though, and regrouped. In the 1989 game in Knoxville, the Tigers looked as inept in the first half as any team in the Dye era. After the 21-14 loss, Auburn would rebound to finish with a 6-1 SEC record, and a share of the SEC title.

 

     Wins in Knoxville have been few and far between, in recent years, but they do herald great things for Auburn, when they happen. Auburn opened the 1957 season with a 7-0 win in Knoxville, and the game signaled that the Tigers had ARRIVED, under Shug Jordan. An SEC Championship and an AP national title followed. The 1963 Tigers squad eeked out a 23-19 win in Knoxville, went on to beat Bama 10-8, and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl. In 1971, a dramatic, come from behind 10-9 victory over the Vols in Knoxville catapulted Auburn to a 9-0 start, and was the foundation for Pat Sullivan's Heisman Trophy campaign. It would be a long 12 years till the Tigers won in Knoxville, again. The 1983 Auburn Tigers came into Knoxville with a 1-1 record, and Tiger quarterback Randy Campbell had completed only 3 of 26 passes on the season. Campbell and the Tigers broke out of the slump in Knoxville, and the Tigers romped, 37-14, en route to the SEC title and a #3 finish in the AP poll. After that win, the next Auburn victory in Knoxville didn't happen for another 21 years. The 2004 Auburn Tigers came into Knoxville undefeated, and feasted upon a pair of freshman Vol quarterbacks, for a rousing 34-10 win that catapulted the Tigers to a 13-0 season, an SEC title, and a number 2 ranking the AP poll.

 

     Obviously, the headliner matchup in this game will be the much-discussed chess game between Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan, and Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Some of Kiffin's pieces are missing for this one, but he has a great line at his disposal, and possibly the best player in the SEC at safety, in Eric Berry. I think the most overlooked matchup is going to be that of Auburn's tackling-challenged front seven against Vol running backs Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown. Lane Kiffin will likely not try to win the game with Jonathan Crompton throwing at Neiko Thorpe and Walter McFadden. If the Vols go that route, the odds are not in their favor. But, a dominating Vol running game that chews up clock and first downs, could spell doom for the Tigers. Gus Malzhan's offense can't score, if it's on the sideline. Expect a heavy dose of Hardesty and Brown, as Tennessee will try to wear down the Auburn defense.

 

     The key to this game, as often is the case with Auburn in Knoxville, will likely be turnovers. Tennessee has been fairly average on turnovers, this year, throwing 8 interception and losing 3 fumbles in 4 games. Auburn has 1 interception and 3 fumbles lost in the same period. Two of Auburn's turnovers have been on the punt return team. Don't expect to see Lane Kiffin go for it on 4th down, much, when he can punt and have at least a 50 percent chance of the Auburn return man dropping it on the ground. Neither team can afford to be generous, in this game. If both offenses sputter, a single turnover in the wrong place could win the game for the other team.

 

     We'll be here all day Saturday, watching another great weekend of SEC football. Bama kicks things off against Kentucky, in Lexington. There's an important matchup between the Hedges, as Georgia hosts LSU. Ole Miss and Vandy square off in Nashville. Can Vandy pull the upset? Or will Nutt right the ship? Arkansas, Mississippi State and South Carolina all play out of conference. There are a couple of dangerous games in there. Arkansas will go on the road to face undefeated Texas A&M, where new Aggie defensive coordinator Joe Kines will try to corral the high-flying Razorback attack. Mississippi State will face a more daunting challenge at home: stopping Georgia Tech's dangerous triple option attack. The Bulldogs will have to perform better than they did against Auburn's rushing attack, or the SEC will suffer a loss, there. We'll have an open thread up here at TrackEmTigers.com, early Saturday morning. As always, feel free to participate, and share your thoughts!

 

War Eagle! Beat the Vols!