The less said about this one the better. But what would Monday be without the trending report? Let's get on with it.
- Time to rest. In the last four weeks, Tennessee has played the #11, #1, #10, and #7 teams in the country. This week, Tennessee plays no one. The cumulative effect of four straight games against top competition had to weigh heavily on a team without a lot of depth (at least, I hope that's what this was), and it's hard to see a better time for a bye right before a game the Vols absolutely must win to make a bowl. Tennessee needs to be a different team in two weeks.
- The running game*. You know we're reaching for positives when the ones we list include asterisks. But the running game went for 226 yards on 5.3 per carry, and that's a good day. Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane both ran well (for the most part), and Neal had one of the best carries of his career when he broke four tackles and plunged in for a second quarter touchdown. What's the asterisk? Short yardage. We'll talk more about that.
- The short yardage game. Five times Saturday, Tennessee was faced with a 3rd or 4th down and 1 yard to go. Here are the results of those five plays: false start, Neal run for no gain, punt, Neal run for no gain, Neal run for no gain. The running game looked good in general, but on obvious running downs, when the offensive line just needs to push the defense back, they completely wilted. Neal certainly deserves some censure for trying to juke or bounce it outside on short yardage plays, but the fact is, the defensive line pushed the offensive line back on all three attempts. That's on the offensive line, which should draw the coaches' ire for the second straight week despite a solid rushing total overall.
- Kick coverage. This had been a strength for most of the year (well, punt coverage was a strength and kick coverage was slightly below average), but it'd be hard to be worse than it was on Saturday. Auburn returned seven kicks or punts in Saturday's game, and they averaged 45 yards per return. They scored two return touchdowns, and two more touchdowns were prevented by tackles from kicker Michael Palardy. There's not much more to say here apart from "inexcusable." Special teams coordinator Mark Elder needs to make sure it never happens again.
- Run defense. Auburn ran for 444 on 8.5 yards per carry. Of course, Auburn has a very good run game. Maybe it was just them being too talented for the Tennessee defense. Tennessee has been hurt on the ground before, but when facing much less talented teams, like Alabama (204 yards, 5.5 yards per carry) and Oregon (216 yards, 5.3 yards per carry), the Vols defense was able to put up a better fight. Team speed is a massive problem that can only be fixed by recruiting. But if you're nodding your head at the sentence two prior to this one, you haven't watched much football since 2010. The Vols defensive coaches need to take a long look in the mirror after this one. Two were fired from their last SEC jobs, and if they can't install a scheme to at least contain a running quarterback (Nick Marshall ran for over 200 yards and 15 yards per carry), they may be again.
- FIght. In their previous blowout losses, the Vols have at least battled to the end. In this one, it looked like they raised the white flag midway through the third quarter. This team is less than a year removed from being coached by [Fulmerized] Derek Dooley, and it showed at the end of Saturday's game. The coaching staff has two weeks to bring the attitude back to where it was at the start of the death march.
- Finishing drives. This is a bad thing. The Vols got inside the Auburn 30 five times. They got into the end zone once, kicked three field goals, and turned it over on downs once. Moving the ball was not the problem, as the Vols had over 250 yards by halftime. But without ability to finish with touchdowns, they had no chance to keep up in a shootout.