The Tennessee Volunteers are finding out the hard way the toll that a historically tough schedule, combined with playing numerous true freshmen, will take on a team.
Tennessee looked like they were prepared to give Auburn a fight early, but in the end Auburn’s running game proved too much for the Vols as they cruised to a 55-23 victory in front of 102,455 fans at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
The Tigers racked up 479 total yards of offense, with 444 of those coming on the ground.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall led the charge, carrying the ball 14 times for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Tre Mason added 117 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Tennessee was able to move the ball more effectively this week, amassing 354 total yards.
Josh Dobbs completed 16 of his 25 passes for 128 yards. The true freshman threw one interception on an under-thrown pass that was intended for Pig Howard.
Marquez North was the game’s leading receiver with five catches for 58 yards. Over half of his yardage total came on a pass that hung in the air for a long time after Dobbs was hit in the pocket.
The brightest spot of the afternoon for the Vols was the effectiveness of running back Rajion Neal.
Neal had his sixth career 100 yard rushing game, as he totaled 125 yards on 20 carries, including this impressive TD run.
Marlin Lane added 57 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Unlike last week, Neal was clearly the better runner on the day.
There were plenty areas of concern for the Vols on Saturday, most notably the run defense and special teams coverage.
The Vols run defense was exploited last week and Auburn did exactly what everyone thought they would against the Vols.
The special teams coverage is a little more concerning.
Tennessee gave up touchdowns on a kick return and a punt return.
What’s even more bothersome is the 312 total yards the Vols gave up on returns.
Auburn averaged just under 45 yards per return on Saturday.
Jones was visibly upset with his team’s overall effort on Saturday, saying “Obviously disappointed in a lot of aspects. But this is a part in the development of our football team”.
Despite losing three games in a row by an average margin of 32 points a game, Jones has not wavered in his belief that he’ll return Tennessee to greatness.
Jones: I will tell you this, and you can write this: We WILL get it done. Tennessee is too special…..If it kills me, it kills me, but I’m going to put everything I have in it to get Tennessee back.
The belief that Jones has in his staff and his team is undeniable.
Auburn, much like Missouri did last week, proved they are no fluke and they are deserving of being a top ten team.
The Vols have played a historically tough schedule this season and now they’ll have to win their final two games to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
Senior Michael Palardy said after the loss “It’s absolutely critical that we go to a bowl game”.
No one wants it for the seniors more than Butch Jones, who said “We have to finish the season for the seniors, they have been through so much, they deserve it”.