KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- There was concern prior to Saturday’s game. Auburn was playing on the road in a stadium that had already seen one upset last month. It was an early kick, which has plagued the Tigers in recent seasons. But despite a rocky start, Gus Malzahn’s bunch came through yet again, racing past Tennessee and improving to 9-1 on the season.
Here are three things we learned from the game:
Pass optional: Auburn scored 55 points Saturday and only completed three passes. It was the fewest number of passes completed in a win since 1985. But the Tigers didn’t need to throw it. Tennessee had no answer for the SEC’s top rushing attack. Quarterback Nick Marshall led the way with 214 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Tre Mason, who entered the game among the league leaders in both yards and touchdowns, ran for 117 yards and three scores. It was the third time this season that Auburn had multiple 100-yard rushers in a game. Malzahn still believes his team can throw the ball when needed, but why throw it when you can rush for 444 yards against an SEC-caliber defense.
“Special” teams: Auburn’s special teams, in particular the return game, had as much to do -- if not more -- with the win than the offense and the defense. Chris Davis had two long punt returns, one that went 85 yards for a touchdown and another that set up a touchdown. Corey Grant took the opening kickoff in the second half 90 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers had a school-record 312 return yards by the end of the third quarter, and there was talk they might set the all-time NCAA mark (376) before it was over. They came up short, but it was still a day to remember for special teams’ coach Scott Fountain and his group. The only blemish was a blocked extra point that put an end to Cody Parkey’s SEC-leading streak of 90 consecutive made PATs.
Building confidence: Before the season, the best-case scenario for Auburn was eight wins and a decent bowl game. Nobody told Malzahn that. With Saturday’s victory, the Tigers have now surpassed that win total, and there’s still two games left to be played. Malzahn won’t let his team look ahead, but if they can knock off both Georgia and Alabama at home to finish the regular season, they will earn a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. The scary part is Auburn looks better with every game. There’s a sense of confidence that is growing. Last season, the Tigers lost all hope. This season, they share the belief that they can beat anybody. It’s been a complete turnaround, and one that’s likely not over yet.