By Frank Gale
The Tennessee schedule is starting to take its toll on the team, the coaching staff and the Vol Nation. After playing two exceptional games at home against quality opponents earlier in October, the Vols have taken their lumps in two of their latest contests on the road.
The way the Vols lost to Missouri upset Butch Jones because they lacked toughness and failed to compete along the line of scrimmage. That prompted a change in practice this week to get back to the toughness the team had shown in the early part of the schedule. Full pads and contact returned, even at the risk of injury to a team with a thin depth chart.
Auburn will be coming to Rocky Top tomorrow with their lofty No. 7 national ranking and an 8-1 record. Their only setback occurred back in September to another Tiger team that resides in Baton Rouge. They are now 2-1 on the road, which includes a high scoring shootout with Texas A&M.
Joshua Dobbs will be playing against his third top 10 team in a row when he makes his first start at home. The friendlier confines of Neyland Stadium will be a welcome sight for the Vols after two rowdy road venues. The large anticipated homecoming crowd will be counted on to create that special home field atmosphere tomorrow.
The Vols got good news this week with the addition of the Berry twins to the list of commitments for 2014. It is great to add a few more players that bleed orange to the recruiting class. I remember another set of twins that played for The Big Orange back in the early 1980s that didn’t turn out too bad. Remember Reggie and Raleigh McKenzie!
The Vols will be facing another mobile quarterback who just happens to be the Tigers second leading rusher. When Nick Marshall isn’t running or passing, he is handing the ball to Tre Mason or one of the other talented backs. This high octane offense has the potential to turn this game into a one-sided track meet. It will be up to the defense to contain the Tigers running game, something they have struggled with this season.
The Auburn defense has shown vulnerability this season even though they have been opportunistic in the turnover category. While the Tiger defense has given up an average of eighteen points a game, it has been offset by a high scoring offense.
Gus Malzahn has returned to take over the program and has breathed new life into a team that went winless in the SEC last year. He now has them poised to challenge their in state rival for a trip to the SEC championship game.
The Vols are still two games short of being bowl eligible, with only three more games remaining. One of those games is against Jim Butler’s Commodores in two weeks. Besides bragging rights for local fans, it could have major bowl eligibility implications for both teams.
The Vols return home with a slightly bruised ego for the 11 a.m. CST kickoff. Despite being an underdog once again, Team No. 117 has played their best football at home this season. This time, however, they will have to do it without Justin Worley at the helm of the offense. A ball-controlling offense and owning the line of scrimmage will go a long way to continue the winning trend at home tomorrow.
The Vols will be looking to stop a two-game losing streak and taking a step closer to becoming bowl eligible. The loud home crowd, a 60-minute effort and returning to a physical style of play just might be enough to catch this Tiger by the tail. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)