Tennessee got a break from its five-game SEC gauntlet during the bye week but now it’s on to Auburn for Jeremy Pruitt’s program. The Volunteers are scheduled to play the Tigers on Saturday for an 11 a.m. kick from the Plains.
While Tennessee is rested and coming off a bye week, Auburn lost last week in a very physical matchup against Mississippi State.
Here’s everything Pruitt had to say Monday during his weekly press conference about Tennessee’s upcoming game against the Tigers:
“We’ve got a tremendous challenge this week going to Auburn. Auburn is a very difficult place to play, and they’ve got a very good football team, very good on defense. I think they’re one of the top defense teams in the country. They’re really big up front, have a really good front seven, play man-to-man in the back end a whole lot, can do that, deny the ball, lots of pressure on the quarterback, and they can do it with just their front four.
“Offensively, Gus [Malzahn] has always done a really good job running the football, making you play from sideline to sideline, creating explosive plays and the run and pass game giving you a bunch of different looks. They play really fast, have an experienced quarterback, have good wide receivers, Chandler Cox seems like he’s been playing forever, and have a couple running backs that are big and physical. It’ll be a tremendous challenge for us.
“And their kicking game, they’ve got good specialists. I think they returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown. They’ve blocked three kicks this year. They’ve got a lot of runners and strikers on their special teams and they’ve got good guys returning it in the back end.
“It will definitely be a huge challenge for us, but our guys are looking forward to it. I know I’m excited to get back out on the field and get a chance to prepare for somebody. Just trying to talk to our guys, they don’t have any history of playing Auburn and I think especially on the defensive side, there’s a lot of awareness that you need. We’ve got to do a good job of getting these guys prepared for this week.”
On the differences he sees from Auburn’s team last year to this year:
“They had to replace some guys up front. If you look last week in the ball game, there’s a touchdown that they’re this far away from it being a touchdown, had several opportunities. I’ve played against this guy before. This guy’s got great arm talent. He has understanding of what he does, what they want him to do offensively. He’s got good guys around him. He can make all the throws. He can hurt you with his feet. I think he’s a tremendous quarterback and it definitely will be a huge challenge for us.”
On defending Auburn’s offense:
“You need to keep your edges. These guys do a really good job of running the football. They create a lot of explosive plays out on the perimeter, so you have to have good edges to make them block you to begin with. I think you have to eliminate explosive plays in the pass game. You need to get them in third-and-long yardage. If you don’t, their run-pass options are really tough to defend. Last year, converting third downs was probably the difference in the ball game when I coached against them. We have to get off the field on third down.
“You need to hold them to field goals in the red area. You have to find ways to get some turnovers. All the things I just said probably (apply to) every week. Against these guys, it’s going to be important.”
On needing the defensive line getting pressure against Auburn on third downs:
“Gus [Malzahn] has always given you multiple personnel, but they do a great job of making you play from sideline to sideline. They play really fast on offense. They are very multiple. You have to recognize formations and where guys are at. To me, his teams have always gotten better as the season has gone along.
“Most of the time, we have coached against him at the very end. They are really dangerous when they get going. To me, they have been right there at it every game. You can watch all the games. There is always just a play or two there that they have just barely missed on to get them going.
“We have to do a good job of slowing them down on first down. We have to keep our edges and tackle better. They have big strong running backs and players. Their rocket sweep guys are tough to get on the ground. We have to keep them cut off in the back end to make them earn it.”
On respecting Gus Malzahn more since he also started in the high school coaching ranks:
“I have several good friends on Auburn’s staff. They are guys that I have worked with before or went to school with. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he has done and the people on his staff. They have one of the best coaching staffs in the country. They do a fantastic job. Every year that we have played them, it’s always been a battle. Hopefully, it will be the same way this year.”
On the Mississippi State’s success running the ball against Auburn:
“They were willing to run their quarterback, I think 25 times in the game. I don’t know how many times he ran it, but every time I flipped on the channel he was running with the ball. It was basically Wildcat. That’s a tough offense to defend because you’ve got a quarterback who can run the football but also throw it at the same time.
“It’s tough to defend. It’s tough in this league to do that. Sometimes you kind of get a game like that last week and the quarterback runs it that many times, it makes it tough to stop. I can tell you this, that quarterback’s really sore today and this league you do that over and over and over again, you better have another one.”
On Auburn’s front four on defense:
“They’ve got Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, 95 (Dontavius Russell)—I’m sorry, I forgot his name. I know he’s 95, makes a bunch of plays and he’s been playing there for about 10 years—you know, Nick Coe. They’ve got guys—They rotate guys in and out. They’re deep up front and they have really good linebackers too.
“Those linebackers—I know a lot of these guys just because of recruiting and things like that—really good competitors. The guys play it the right way and I can guarantee you they’ll be ready to play this week.”