Tigers, Vols trying to rebound

Published 3:25 pm Friday, September 26, 2008

AUBURN – Most of the current Auburn and Tennessee players were in high school the last time the teams met. They have a lot in common now as they enter Saturday’s renewal of a once-annual rivalry.

Both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks to run newly installed offenses, trying to rebound from difficult home losses to key division rivals and nursing hopes for a move back into Southeastern Conference contention.

And normally reliable running games failed them last weekend.

No. 15 Auburn (3-1, 1-1) and Tennessee (1-2, 0-1) meet for the first time since the 2004 SEC championship game in a rivalry that was played annually on the last Saturday in September from 1956-91.

“Their team is a lot like ours,” Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We both understand that going into this game both teams have a loss in the conference and both teams will have to play hard to try to stay out of the loss column again.”

One big difference is the Volunteers were blown out by No. 4 Florida while the Tigers took No. 5 LSU down to the wire. Auburn’s Antonio Coleman figures both teams will be in bad moods, but that Tennessee’s will be worse.

“We were in a bad mood because we lost,” the defensive end said. “It would have been a worse mood if they had come out and physically beat us, just pounding the ball on us. But we knew we had too many mistakes to win that game. We were still that close.”

Both realize they haven’t left themselves much margin for error in the SEC even this early in the season.

“Of course, we have to win,” Vols receiver Gerald Jones said. “We have to win every game. That’s my frame of mind. This is a must-win. This is a big game. We’re on the road, top-15 team, great defense. This can really prove what we really are and how much we improve week by week.

“They’re tired of losing, and we’re tired of losing. They’re all about proving themselves and so are we, so it’s going to be a high intensity game just like Florida.”

The offenses and quarterbacks are both going through some growing pains in new systems. Tennessee is ninth in the SEC in scoring offense, Auburn 10th; the Vols rank 10th in pass efficiency, Auburn 11th.

Vols quarterback Jonathan Crompton and Auburn’s Chris Todd both have thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes.

It wasn’t the passing games that were most ineffective in last week’s games, though.

Tennessee tailback Arian Foster and Auburn’s Ben Tate were both shut down. Coleman still expects Foster and backfield mate Montario Hardesty to come right at Auburn’s defense.

Auburn is one of just two teams that have played four games without allowing a rushing touchdown this season.

“Any time you play an SEC team, it’s going to always be power,” Coleman said. “That’s what the SEC is known for is lining up in the I, just trying to ram the ball down your throat. That’s what I look forward to.”

Looking even more forward, the teams are clinging to hope in a league where teams beat up on each other weekly.

The Vols have twice made it to the SEC championship game under coach Phillip Fulmer after dropping their league opener. They even did it last year.

“We’re a very mentally tough football team, as coaches and as players,” Crompton said. “We’ve been putting everything behind us saying forget it, the season starts today. We’re just trying to go undefeated from here on out.

“When times get hard, that’s when you come together as a team.”