Auburn vs LSU

Eli Stove and Bo Nix celebrate their 9-yard touchdown pass that began Auburn's steamrolling of LSU. [TODD VAN EMST/AUBURN ATHLETICS]

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Auburn

TV/radio: ESPN/FM-94.9, FM-98.3

The line: Auburn by 10½

Records: Tennessee (2-4), Auburn (4-2)

Series: Auburn leads 28-22-3

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Four-down territory

1. Some time off: Both Auburn and Tennessee were a part of the mass exodus that was the last week of the college football season. Both teams were scheduled to play games that were postponed due to COVID-19, contract tracing, etc. Auburn dealt with a few issues of its own in that regard, but the Tigers (and Volunteers) are good to go to this week after what was essentially an open week. The Tigers were playing good football before the 22-day break, especially defensively, while Tennessee is still reeling after a tough loss to Arkansas.

2. Tigers’ defense improving: The Auburn defense has gotten better with each passing week of the 2020 season. The Tigers have the only defense in the SEC that has not given up more than 30 points in a game this season. While the Tigers have seen good individual performances from players like linebacker Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe, other players have started to make their presence known. Derick Hall won SEC defensive lineman of the week after the win over LSU. Hall had four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.

3. AU offense figuring it out: In the first half of the season, the Auburn offense was shaky. There was talent there, but the Tigers were having trouble consistently putting it together. The 48-11 win over LSU, Auburn’s last game, was the Tigers’ largest margin of victory over LSU in series history. The offense racked up 503 total yards of offense and Bo Nix went 18-for-24 passing for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Nix also hit on a big play, completing a 91-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Schwartz.

4. UT offense still trying to figure it out: Tennessee’s has issues in every phase of the game and it has led to a four-game losing streak. The offense, however, has been the primary struggle of late. Jarrett Guarantano is still the starter, but he’s both struggled and battled injuries this season. Coach Jeremy Pruitt said the Volunteers had a good week of practice during the open week and both freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey and sophomore Brian Maurer each got a lot of work. The Volunteers have been good when they have success running the ball, particularly with running back Eric Gray. But, Tennessee will need to be able to move the ball through the air against a tough Auburn defense.

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Key matchup

Tennessee OL vs. Auburn DL

Both units have shined at times this season, but inconsistencies have held them back. For Tennessee, the offensive line paved the way for Gray and the running game early in the season, but the Volunteers haven’t run the ball as successfully in the latter half of the season and are having trouble protecting the quarterback. On the flip side, Auburn’s defensive line has gotten better as the season has gone on.

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Player of the week

Bo Nix, QB

For all the struggles Nix and the Auburn offense had in the early part of the season, the sophomore has gotten better and will hope to keep it going at Tennessee. On the season, Nix has thrown for 1,407 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. His breakout game was against LSU, so coach Gus Malzahn and company are more than likely hoping the trend continues.

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By the numbers

4: Straight games that the Auburn offense has rushed for over 200 yards. The Tigers are the only team in the SEC to do so this season.

100: Saturday’s game with Tennessee will be Gus Malzahn’s 100th as head coach at Auburn. His first came was a 31-24 win over Washington State in 2013.

40: Number of tackles by Tennessee sophomore linebacker Henry To’o To’o, the most on the team. To’o To’o has shined in his second season with the Volunteers. He also has a team-high seven tackles for loss.

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Prediction

Auburn 28, Tennessee 14

Auburn seems to be trending upward while Tennessee has hit a rough patch. All signs point toward a winnable game for Auburn. If the Tigers can run the ball successfully and hit the occasional big play down field, they shouldn’t have much problem given the defense continues to play well.

— Michael Hebert

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