Auburn’s offense wears Tennessee out in 26-22 win
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Auburn took a big step under first-year coach Gene Chizik, winning on the road against a top-notch defense.
Chris Todd threw for 218 yards and a touchdown, and Ben Tate ran for 128 yards and a score to help the Tigers beat Tennessee 26-22 and jumped out to their first 5-0 start since 2006 on Saturday night.
“This one of those old-school, physical SEC games and we did a good job executing most of the night,” Chizik said.
Auburn (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), which came from behind in its other four games this season, never trailed in its first road game of the season and has now won five straight over the Vols—its longest streak in the series.
Tennessee (2-3, 0-2) isn’t faring nearly as well in its rebuilding efforts under new coach Lane Kiffin.
The Tigers met some resistance early from Tennessee’s defense, but slowly wore it down as they held the ball nearly 10 minutes longer than the Vols. Auburn’s third-ranked offense racked up 459 yards.
“They are so complicated,” Kiffin said. “There are so many things they do.”
Tennessee made the score look closer when Jonathan Crompton threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore as the clock expired to cut the final margin to 26-22. No extra point was attempted.
The Vols defense, which entered the game ranked eighth in the Football Bowl Subdivision, forced the Tigers to punt six times and limited them to field goals by Wes Byrum on four drives. The Auburn offense entered the game averaging 45.3 points and 526.3 yards and ranked third in the FBS.
“We’re trying to prove something every time we hit the field,” Auburn fullback Mario Fannin said. “We know what we have in mind, and that’s a championship. We’re just going to keep pushing forward and get better every week.”
Tennessee’s offense couldn’t stay on the field. The Vols went three-and-out three times in the first half, and Crompton fumbled a snap at the Vols 30 on the first play of a first-quarter drive. The Vols converted only four of 17 third downs.
By the middle of the second quarter, Auburn managed to take advantage of the weary Vols defense and drove 87 yards in 2:32. Tate scored on an 11-yard run to put the Tigers up 13-0 with 8:07 left before halftime.
The Tigers again drove easily on the Vols on a 70-yard drive in the fourth quarter, and Todd connected with Terrell Zachery on an 11-yard touchdown pass to give them a 23-6 lead.
Crompton managed to miss his receivers in every way possible: He overthrew, underthrew and hit them in the head and at the feet. He also didn’t get any help from his targets, who dropped several passes that were accurately thrown.
At halftime, Crompton had completed only four passes for 62 yards. Still, thanks to some success in the Vols’ 2-minute offense, he finished 20 for 43 for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
“There were drops. It was bad. There was no rhythm,” Kiffin said. “We’re not good enough to overcome drops. You start adding those drops in, and we’re going to struggle.”
Todd, who completed 19 of his 32 attempts, had his choice of receivers, completing passes to eight different targets.
The Tennessee defense was noticeably frustrated, and defensive end Chris Walker and tackle Wes Brown spoke to the entire team in a huddle at the sideline after Tate’s touchdown run.
“We have to make those plays because the defense was on the field a lot of time in the first half, and that goes somewhat on us,” Hardesty said. “We’ve got to stay on the field on third downs. We’ve got to keep drives going.”