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Can Tennessee beat Auburn? Let’s check the numbers

A real stats-y look at Saturday’s game.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This Tennessee — Auburn matchup feels... interesting. That’s not something I was expecting to write a month ago. The Vols haven’t shown us too much to be confident in, outside of a respectable effort against Georgia.

Auburn is the main focus here. A 24-13 win over Southern Miss followed by a two touchdown loss to Mississippi State has turned up the heat on Gus Malzahn. Suddenly, Auburn’s back is up against the wall.

Next up for them is a rebuilding Tennessee team that seemed to find a little defensive spark two weeks ago. Can Tennessee capitalize on the Tigers’ struggles? Will the noon kick time slot claim another victim? Lets’ check the numbers.

According to S&P+, Tennessee has a 21 percent chance to win.

  • Auburn is projected to win by 13.9 points.
  • The Tigers rank 18th overall in S&P+.
  • Tennessee ranks 61st overall in S&P+.
  • ESPN’s FPI is slightly less optimistic, giving Tennessee a 13.5 percent chance to win.
  • Auburn opened as an 18.5 point favorite. That number now stands at 14.5.

S&P+ Highlights: Auburn

The 2018 Tigers are trying really hard to waste a really good defense. Auburn ranks 6th in defensive efficiency, but just 97th in offensive efficiency. They are winning games by maintaining field position on both sides of the football.

Auburn ranks 100th in rushing efficiency and 77th in passing efficiency. By the numbers, they are one of the least explosive passing attacks in the country, which lines up with Jarrett Stidham’s well-documented struggles.

As a unit, the Auburn offense checks in at 93rd overall in the S&P+ rankings.

S&P+ Highlights: Tennessee

The Vols are one of the worst teams in the country in terms of turnover rate, sitting at -4 for the season. That number should be higher considering they forced four Georgia fumbles two weeks ago, but the Bulldogs managed to jump on each one.

Jarrett Guarantano is being sacked at a rate of 8.7 percent, which ranks 107th nationally. That stat leads us to our next stat — Tennessee has been in third and long situations 56 percent of the time in 2018, making the money down that much harder. Even when they get to third and short situations, they’re only converting 44 percent of the time, which ranks 120th in the FBS.

The numbers clearly aren’t too kind to Tennessee in this matchup, as expected. However, cleaning up some turnovers (See Florida) and capitalizing on opportunities (See Georgia) could have Tennessee on the right track. The turnover luck has been ridiculously slanted against the Vols early this year and is bound to change.

Tennessee won’t start winning football games until they can at least tread water on the offensive line. That’s going to be tough to do this weekend, facing a rush defense that ranks in the upper third of every metric.

Tyson Helton is going to have to get creative with his offense and manufacture some touches in space for guys like Ty Chandler and Marquez Callaway. Above all else, this offensive line is going to have to protect Jarrett Guarantano. In order for this passing game to work, Guarantano will have to have time to operate.

There’s a chance for an upset here, but I think it’s going to take a defensive touchdown for the Vols to get the job done. Without some help, I think this offense falls short. The good news is that Jeremy Pruitt has had two weeks to prepare for a system that he knows plenty about. We’ll see soon enough if that matters.

Click here to dive into all of the S&P+ data.