Auburn Tigers (4-0, 3-1 ATS) at Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 2-2 ATS)
Neyland Stadium Knoxville, T.N. 7:45PM Eastern
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Auburn +1.5/Tennessee -1.5
The SEC has remained rather quiet early on in the football season thus far in 2009. Despite all the attention around the No.1 Florida Gators, little has been mentioned with the rest of the conference in terms on national recognition. Sure, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin made some headlines before their meeting with Florida as there was a bit of a psychological war going on between coaching staffs. In the midst of the teams that have gained a little bit of attention from the narrow light coming from the inescapable shadow from Florida, there has been little said about the Auburn Tigers who rightfully deserve some attention.
The Tigers could change that this week when they go on the road to take on the Tennessee Volunteers on Rocky Top.
Auburn has gotten off to a quick 4-0 start and is one of the surprises of the season despite little attention being thrown their way. Auburn blasted Mississippi State in their only conference game of the season and more surprisingly is tied with Florida as the top scoring offense in the SEC averaging 45 points per game. The Tigers will meet up with another team who is vastly improving in the new and improved Tennessee Volunteers in what is shaping up to be a very interesting game this Saturday night.
Both teams had their worse season of the decade in 2008 ending the season with 5-7 records. The unacceptable on the field performance called for coaching changes for both schools considering the schools have traditionally battled for SEC and National Championships on a yearly basis. There is little doubt that both programs are on the way back to the top, but the question is who is closer to establishing themselves as a contender once again in the SEC?
Tennessee hit an early bump in the road when they were upset by UCLA in just their 2nd game. The Volunteers suffered another loss a week later to Florida despite playing well for 60 minutes. There has been restored faith by Volunteers fans with Coach Lane Kiffin, but a loss this weekend would put the Volunteers back to an eerie similar situation they faced in 2008 as they started 2-3.
Tennessee QB Jonathon Crompton has been the biggest question mark for the team this season. Crompton can play very well at times, but decision making may not be his best quality. The Volunteers quarterback has thrown 8 interceptions in his first 4 games which is the most in the SEC. Crompton has also thrown 7 touchdowns, but it is the turnovers that have been the problem.
The offense’s biggest asset is running back Montario Hardesty who is averaging nearly 6 yards per carry. Hardesty has racked up 485 yards in his first 4 games leading the SEC. Hardesty will be the biggest threat to end the Tigers undefeated start this weekend as Auburn has given up 154 yards per game on the ground. If those kinds of numbers are any indication of things to come, Hardesty could run wild this Saturday night considering Auburn has yet to play a very strong rushing team.
On the other side of the field, Auburn definitely holds the advantage on offense. The Tigers sport a well balanced attack starting with quarterback Chris Todd. Todd has thrown over 1,000 yards on the season with an impressive 11 touchdowns more than any other player in the SEC. Todd has thrown just 1 interception this year and has consistently targeted sophomore WR Darvin Adams. Adams is a big wide out who has great size and athletic ability while also sporting the knack of making plays. On the year, Adams has 5 touchdowns and 334 yards of receiving. Of course the Tigers have other talented targets like Terrell Zachery who could play in the picture, but Adams will perhaps be the biggest threat in the passing game.
Running back Ben Tate is another big threat in the backfield to add extra concern to the Tennessee defense this weekend. Not only with the Volunteers have to respect the pass, but they will have to stop the run as well. Senior Ben Tate exploded on some highlight reels at the end of 2008 and is picking up where he left off. Tate is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and averaging over 100 yards per game for the Tigers rushing offense that ranks 2nd in the SEC. Tennessee has played well against the run this season making it harder for Tate to have a huge game, but if Tate can be effective perhaps he can allow Todd to make plays with his arm as well.
Jay’s Pick - Interesting game here, this one could have a lot of points scored. The game can really go either way, but given Crompton’s inability to avoid throwing picks I like the Tigers in a close game. Take Auburn +1.5.