The non-conference season is officially over. Auburn mowed through it undefeated. However, the SEC is the true proving ground. Auburn dropped their SEC opener last Friday at Missouri. Now they travel to Tennessee in search of the first conference win of the season.
Tennesee at a glance
The downside is that Tennessee certainly seems to be a look the part of a solid team this season. They've allowed just one goal to this point this season. They scuffled a bit to start the season, beating Georgia Southern but playing to scoreless draws with Lipscomb and Liberty before a 1-1 draw at Virginia Tech. Since then, they've been on fire, scoring 15 goals against Navy (3-0), Murray State (3-0), Arkansas (1-0), and Belmont (8-0, in which Tennessee led 2-0 at the half, then poured an avalanche on the poor Bruins, especially starting with two goals in the 74th minute).
The Vols are led in scoring by Anna McClung. The junior forward has already scored more goals this year (4 on 12 shots) than she did a year ago (3). Much like Auburn, Tennessee boasts a strong keeper. Fifth year senior Julie Eckel is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week after shutting out Arkansas and Belmont. She has posted 7 clean sheets on the season, one ahead of Auburn RSFR netminder Sarah Le Beau. She's also saved nearly 97% of shots on goal.
Reasons for optimism
Given all of that, this appears to be a tough match for Auburn, but there are plenty of reasons to be confident in our Tigers. Tennessee might be unbeaten, but their competition has been a bit lacking. Their major conference opponents this season have been Virginia Tech, not exactly a power in the ACC, and Arkansas, who hasn't finished with a winning conference record in the last 10 years. Keeper Julie Eckel has faced 33 shots on goal, so Tennessee might be a bit leaky along the back line. Any American who watched the 2015 World Cup knows that a great back line can carry a team through a lot, and any American that watched the 2014 World Cup knows that even a goalkeeper having the game of his or her life can only do so much. Finally, despite their record, Tennessee is not ranked by the current coaches poll. They are not currently receiving any votes. Auburn is currently ranked 14th.
Auburn is off on Friday, so there's no reason to hold anything back Sunday afternoon in Knoxville. Auburn has a great opportunity to bounce back from a rough opener at Missouri. Given how that game went, with Missouri popping in two early goals, look for Auburn to attempt to pressure Tennessee early and put the Vols on the chase. If Auburn's back line performs up to their standards, then this should be a win.