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GAME RECAP: Tennessee 30, Auburn 24

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Ugh. What do we do now?

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Today was just one of those days. Whether the result of the day is good or bad, I think we may look back in years to come and say that this is the game that changed it all for Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers.

Tennessee came into Jordan-Hare Stadium and beat Auburn 30-24 today for the Volunteers’ first win in the SEC since 2016, and their first win over a team from the SEC West since 2010. The six-point defeat’s not the worst loss that Malzahn has had at Auburn, but this may be the most impactful. You could feel the crowd waiting for something bad to happen, and when it finally did, there didn’t seem to be much surprise from the fans in attendance.

Auburn was good on third downs (9-16), and only committed five penalties for 38 yards, but Jarrett Stidham’s three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble) were back-breakers, and Auburn’s third down defense was nonexistent as the Vols went deep time and again, abusing the young Tiger secondary. It’s like plugging holes in a sinking ship with this team. One issue gets addressed, and another pops up in its place.

Despite that, Auburn actually opened up the game as well as they have since the win over Washington. The Tigers drove 75 yards in fourteen plays on the opening drive, took more than five minutes off the clock and got a short Chandler Cox touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead. Tennessee answered with a field goal, but then Auburn drove inside the five again and notched a field goal for a 10-3 lead after two drives.

The first quarter was more of an outlier for the Tigers, as they gained 148 yards, ran for 5.8 yards per rush, and held the ball for more than eight minutes. Tennessee’s offense moved the ball as well, and we’d see that take hold more in the ensuing quarters. The Vols found a ton of success in the passing game and in converting third-and-long situations. A wide open 43-yard touchdown pass to tailback Ty Chandler pulled Tennessee even early in the second quarter, but Auburn’s defense clamped down after that.

Auburn hit a huge pass play to Anthony Schwartz, and things seemed to be getting on track. Jarrett Stidham found Schwartz on an intermediate pass to the right, and the freshman speedster broke one tackle, erased a defender’s angle, and sprinted 76 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers a 17-10 lead late in the second quarter. After forcing a Volunteer punt, Ryan Davis inexplicably let the ball go by him instead of fielding it, and it rolled inside the five for a 64-yard kick. Auburn then went three-and-out and a short kick put Tennessee in field goal range. They’d hit a kick to pull within four at the half.

Late in the third quarter, things fell apart for Auburn. Jarrett Guarantano hit Jauan Jennings for a 25-yard touchdown to give Tennessee the lead at 20-17, and then a Stidham fumble turned into a scoop-and-score for the Volunteers and the lead suddenly ballooned to 27-17. A field goal with nine minutes to play increased the lead to 30-17, and Auburn suddenly found itself in a dire situation.

Stidham drove the team down inside the 30-yard line once, but Auburn failed on fourth down with six minutes to play. A last-ditch drive notched a final touchdown on a 14-yard pass to Seth Williams, but the onside kick in the final minute was recovered by Tennessee and they ran out the clock.

Auburn now sits at 4-3, and there are serious — SERIOUS — questions from everyone about the capability of Gus Malzahn and his staff to keep things together and rally this team. It won’t get any easier with Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama all left on the schedule. The Tigers get Ole Miss on the road next Saturday for another 11 AM kickoff in Oxford.

TEAM OFFENSE

AUBURN

  • Total Yards: 448
  • Passing Yards: 322
  • Rushing Yards: 126
  • Penalties: 5-38
  • Third Down: 9-16

TENNESSEE

  • Total Yards: 396
  • Passing Yards: 328
  • Rushing Yards: 68
  • Penalties: 5-40
  • Third Down: 10-19

STAT LEADERS

PASSING

AUBURN: Jarrett Stidham - 28-45, 322 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs

TENNESSEE: Jarrett Guarantano - 21-32, 328 yards, 2 TDs

RUSHING

AUBURN: Anthony Schwartz - 3 carries, 44 yards; JaTarvious Whitlow - 12 carries, 42 yards; Malik Miller - 6 carries, 32 yards

TENNESSEE: Ty Chandler - 16 carries, 50 yards

RECEIVING

AUBURN: Ryan Davis - 7 catches, 57 yards; Malik Miller - 6 catches, 57 yards; Seth Williams - 5 catches, 85 yards, 1 TD; Anthony Schwartz - 2 catches, 83 yards, 1 TD

TENNESSEE: Jauan Jennings - 5 catches, 71 yards, 1 TD; Ty Chandler - 5 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD

DEFENSE

AUBURN: Deshaun Davis - 10 tackles, 1 TFL; Javaris Davis - 8 tackles, 2 TFLS; Daniel Thomas - 6 tackles; Marlon Davidson - 5 tackles, blocked FG; Nick Coe - 2 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFLs

SPECIAL TEAMS

AUBURN: Anders Carlson - 1-2 FGs (made 20; missed 54)

TENNESSEE: Brent Cimaglia 3-4 FGs (made 42, 45, 20; 48 blocked)