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Knocking off the Rust

Nov 21, 2020; Auburn AL, USA; Coach Gus Malzahn reacts with the team after the game between Auburn and Tennesee at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics
Nov 21, 2020; Auburn AL, USA; Coach Gus Malzahn reacts with the team after the game between Auburn and Tennesee at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

In the first quarter, Auburn seemed like a team who had not played in three weeks.  However, the Tigers eventually asserted their dominance over Tennessee to pick up a 30-17 victory in their return to action.  Winning the game not only moved Auburn's record to 5-2 on the season, but also made Gus Malzahn victorious in his 100th career game as the Auburn head coach.  After the Volunteers jumped out to an early 10-0 lead, the Tigers came roaring back to score 27 unanswered points.  The pivotal play in the game came with 2:21 left in the third quarter and Auburn clinging to a tenuous 13-10 lead.  Tennessee was threatening in the red zone before Smoke Monday picked off Jarrett Guarantano in the end zone and then ran it back 100 yards for the pick-six.  

The first period was dominated by the Volunteers.  Tennessee's first three drives netted 183 yards.  Guarantano did most of the damage through the air.  Despite the Auburn defense allowing the yardage to pile up, they twice forced the Volunteers to settle for field goal attempts, one of which was missed.  Auburn then answered back in the second quarter with two nice drives of their own, netting a touchdown and a field goal, to tie the score up before halftime.  

Auburn's opening drive of the third quarter drained half of the quarter off the clock, but the Tigers were forced to settle for a short field goal by Anders Carlson.  Tennessee's next drive ended with the aforementioned Monday pick-six.  Tennessee once again moved the ball effectively on their next drive behind the legs of Eric Gray; however, Auburn once again stiffened in the red zone and forced another Volunteer field goal which was missed.  Auburn then went on a 12 play 80 yard march capped by a DJ Williams touchdown run to put the game out of reach midway through the fourth quarter.

Auburn's four game streak of rushing for at least 200 yards came to an end, but the Tigers still had an effective evening on the ground despite losing freshman phenom Tank Bigsby and both starting offensive tackles to injury.  Auburn finished the game with 38 carries for 165 yards on the ground.  DJ Williams (11 carries 66 yards) and Shaun Shivers (14 carries 65 yards) both stepped up with Bigsby leaving the game in the first half. Bo Nix shook off an early interception to finish the game with 220 yards passing including a 54 yard touchdown toss to Anthony Schwartz.  Schwartz finished the game with three catches for 84 yards and the touchdown. Seth Williams also had a productive night with five catches for 52 yards.

The Auburn defense was characterized by a bend but don't break mentality against the Volunteers.  Tennessee gained 464 yards of total offense while averaging 5.4 yards a play.  However, Auburn forced Tennessee to come up empty handed after three promising drives (two missed field goals and the Monday interception).  Eric Gray was a thorn in the Tigers side all evening as he rushed for 173 yards and a touchdown and added 49 receiving yards.  The Tigers defense sacked Guarantano three times and also sacked Harrison Bailey, who finished out the last half of the fourth quarter for Tennessee at quarterback, once.  Colby Wooden recorded one and a half of those four sacks.

Auburn will be back in action next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CST when they travel to Tuscaloosa to take on number one Alabama in the Iron Bowl.  Auburn will hope their injured starters will be able to heal quickly, so the team is at full force in the biggest game of the year.

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