Tennessee Stat Book
AP Top 25 College Football
Auburn is ahead of Tennessee in the rebuilding race. A 26-22 victory Saturday night in Neyland Stadium didn’t seem an accurate measuring stick of how far ahead.
A crowd of 102,941 and an ESPN audience watched the Tennessee offense struggle to keep pace with Auburn’s prolific and imaginative offense as the Tigers improved to 5-0, 2-0 SEC, under first-year coach Gene Chizik.
“I thought we lost in all three phases of the game today,’’ said UT coach Lane Kiffin after the Vols fell to 2-3, 0-2 SEC.
UT trailed 23-6 early in the fourth quarter before quarterback Jonathan Crompton and the rest of the offense finally showed some pop.
Too little, too late. Crompton’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore as time expired was the closest Tennessee got all night.
The Tigers dominated statistically most of the night and ended up with 459 yards of total offense.
“They’re so complicated,’’ Kiffin said. “They do a great job. And I thought their players made a lot of plays tonight.’’
Tennessee didn’t make many plays until the fourth quarter.
Chris Todd’s 11-yard TD pass to Terrell Zachery put the Tigers on top 23-6 with 13:41 to play.
UT answered with a quick scoring drive. Crompton found Montario Hardesty with a 31-yard touchdown pass and it was 23-13 with 11:36 remaining.
Tennessee’s next possession was a laborious, 18-play undertaking that reached the Auburn 4, but not the end zone.
Daniel Lincoln’s 26-yard field goal left it 23-16 with 4:19 left.
A 52-yard kickoff return by Ontario McCalebb helped the Tigers get close enough for Wes Byrum’s fourth field goal of the game.
And a 26-16 lead was money in the bank, with only 39 seconds left.
The Tigers, it turned out, needed those three points. Crompton hit two long passes, the final one to Moore for the score.
But time was out and Auburn was home safe.
The late rush made Tennessee’s numbers surprisingly respectable — 410 yards of offense.
Crompton was 20-of-43 passing for 259 yards. But only 78 of those yards came in the first three quarters as the passing game struggled mightily to overcome off-target passes and drops by the receivers.
“We’re not good enough to overcome drops,’’ Kiffin said. “We’re not explosive enough.’’
Auburn, which joins Florida in holding an active five-game winning streak over Tennessee, led 13-6 at the half.
It was almost 13-0. Hardesty scored on a 1-yard run with just 28 seconds left in the half. Lincoln’s PAT kick was blocked.
Auburn’s lead had come via an 11-yard TD run from Ben Tate and Byrum’s first two field goals.
UT’s first snap of the second half helped kill any hard-won momentum: Crompton tripped coming out from under center for a 4-yard loss.
The Vols never even approached midfield in the third quarter. Auburn threatened a touchdown but came away with only a third Byrum field goal.
Thus UT began the fourth quarter facing a 16-6 deficit.
Not for long. Auburn drove 70 yards for Todd’s TD pass to Zachery to make it 23-6 and seemingly put the game out of reach.
The Vols appeared to have stopped the drive on an interception. However, a review determined the ball hit the field before Montori Hughes intercepted it.
Reprieved, Auburn converted a third-and-8 and continued on the march.
Auburn’s Tate finished with 128 yards rushing. Hardesty had 90 on 21 attempts.
The Vols managed 175 yards of offense in the first half but it wasn’t evenly distributed.
Nu’Keese Richardson accounted for 41 on the first snap from scrimmage. From there, nothing much happened until UT drove 70 yards for the score in the final 1:30 before halftime.
The 64 yards accumulated during the meat of the first half were mostly scattered around incomplete passes: Crompton was 4-of-16 at the break.
As Kiffin said, UT didn’t win the kicking game, either.
In addition to the blocked extra point, Lincoln missed an 39-yard field goal on the Vols’ opening drive.
Chad Cunningham finished with a 41.8-yard punting average but his first attempt, a short 27-yarder, put Auburn in good field position for their first field goal.
Finally, when the Vols made it a one-score difference at 23-16, Auburn’s McCalebb uncorked the long kickoff return that propelled the Tigers toward a field goal that expanded the lead to 10 points inside the final minute.
Crompton made it through the game without an interception — a first for 2009 — but he fumbled a snap from center that set up Auburn’s second field goal.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Vols as they search for their first SEC win under Kiffin. Georgia is due on Saturday, and Alabama awaits after an open date.