Auburn frustrates Tennessee with big plays on homecoming
Nick Marshall gained 214 of Auburn's 444 yards rushing Saturday and the seventh-ranked Tigers scored on a punt return and kickoff return in a 55-23 victory over Tennessee.
Marshall ran for two touchdowns on just 14 carries and threw for a third score. Tre Mason rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns as Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC) earned its sixth straight victory and averaged 8.4 yards per carry.
Chris Davis put Auburn ahead for good and broke a 13-all tie in the second quarter with an 85-yard punt return, Auburn's longest since 1970 and the third-longest in school history. Corey Grant returned the second-half kickoff 90 yards for another Auburn touchdown. This was the first time ever Auburn had scored on a punt return and a kickoff return in the same game.
Auburn won while attempting just seven passes all day. Marshall's third and final pass completion was a 25-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 6:36 remaining in the first quarter. The Tigers had thrown just nine passes last week in a 35-17 victory over Arkansas.
Rajion Neal rushed for 124 yards and Michael Palardy kicked three field goals for Tennessee (4-6, 1-5), which dropped its third straight game.
The Volunteers must win the rest of their games to become bowl eligible and avoid their fourth consecutive losing season. Tennessee hosts Vanderbilt on Nov. 23 and closes the regular season Nov. 30 at Kentucky. Tennessee hasn't had four straight losing seasons since 1903-06.
Tennessee was playing its fifth straight opponent ranked 11th or higher and was facing a ranked foe for the seventh time in eight games. According to STATS LLC, Tennessee is the first team since Pittsburgh in 1993 to play seven ranked teams in an eight-game stretch within the same season.
Auburn entered the day leading the SEC with 306.2 yards rushing, 69 more than anyone else in the league. Tennessee was allowing 5.1 yards per carry and a league-high 201.7 yards rushing per game.
Both trends continued Saturday. Every time Tennessee seized the momentum, Auburn regained control by running the ball.
After Neal broke at least three tackles on a spectacular 17-yard touchdown run in the first play of the second quarter to put the Vols ahead 13-6, Auburn tied the game 45 seconds later on a two-play, 75-yard drive. Marshall started the drive with a 62-yard keeper and Mason followed by running 13 yards around the left end without getting touched.
Marshall made a rare mistake when he threw an interception that Jacques Smith returned 18 yards for a touchdown that cut Auburn's lead to 27-20 with 1:28 left in the half, but the quarterback redeemed himself 37 seconds later by racing 38 yards around the left end untouched for a touchdown that restored Auburn's 14-point advantage.
Tennessee also couldn't slow down Auburn's returners.
The Vols entered the day ranked 27th among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams in punt coverage, but they gave up two long returns Saturday. Davis fumbled one punt at the Auburn 15, then picked the ball up and raced down the left sideline for an 85-yard touchdown. Davis also had a 42-yard punt return that led to Auburn's first touchdown of the game.
Mason set up Auburn's final touchdown of the first half by returning a kickoff to the Tennessee 45. Grant extended the Tigers' lead to 41-20 with his 90-yard kickoff return that opened the second half.
Tennessee never threatened again.
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