Auburn Tigers 55, Tennessee Volunteers 23: The Tigers Strike Back With a Vengeance

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee looked like it might put a scare into the Tigers early on. And then Auburn showed why it's in the running for an SEC West title

For a time, this game looked like another example of Butch Jones turning Neyland Stadium into a venue that ranked teams had to fear once again. Tennessee stood its own against Auburn well into the second quarter, even weathering the Tigers' first attempt to run away with the game by cutting the lead to 27-20 about a minute and a half before halftime.

Then, it all fell apart. Nick Marshall ran for a 38-yard touchdown just before the half to start a 28-3 run that put Tennessee on the brink of missing a bowl for the third straight year and got the Tigers through the last upset possibility before a season-defining stretch against Georgia and Alabama.

What made the win all the more astonishing was that Auburn passed the ball as much as you might expect a service academy to. Nick Marshall was 3-of-7 for 35 yards, a beautiful touchdown throw and an interception returned for a touchdown. Put another way, the Tigers ran the ball on 88.1 percent of their offensive snaps. And they ran it for 444 yards, or 8.5 yards a carry. (Marshall had 214 of those yards on 14 carries.) Tennessee knew what was coming, and couldn't even begin to stop it.

Of course, Tennessee is not the best team Auburn is going to face this year. The Volunteers are hanging on for dear life for an opportunity to make a bowl game, needing to win out against Vanderbilt and at Kentucky to be eligible for the postseason. The Wildcats will give Tennessee a chance if it can beat Vanderbilt, but the Vols might be an underdog in their own stadium in that game.

Auburn faces a more daunting challenge for a bigger prize. Win those home games against the Dawgs and the Tide, and Auburn will go to the Georgia Dome to play the SEC Championship Game. The chances of pulling that off aren't great, particularly when it comes to the Iron Bowl, but no one who watched Auburn eviscerate Tennessee when they needed to Saturday would be too quick to write the Tigers off.

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