Tony Thompson thinks he'll be a marked man after what happened last season.
Auburn's defense, one of the nation's best, was shredded by Tennessee for 350 yards on the ground. The Volunteers were so successful they only had to throw seven times in a 21-14 victory."I'm sure they remember it," said Thompson, Tennessee's senior tailback who took over the starting job after Chuck Webb suffered a season-ending injury. "I think they'll play us heavy on the run since they pride themselves on stopping the run."
Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the two Southeastern Conference powers meet for the 42nd time in a game that will push the winner to the front of the league race. Auburn is 2-0 and ranked third in the nation; Tennessee is 3-0-1 and rated No. 5.
"The whole team knows what's at stake," said Auburn quarterback Stan White. "This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest game of the season. Whoever wins is going to be sitting pretty good in the SEC."
Particularly since Florida has been banished from the conference race by the NCAA. Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the only other teams without at least one SEC loss, and neither is expected to challenge for the title.
But Auburn and Tennessee both have their sights set higher than just the SEC.
"In order to win the national championship, Cal State Fullerton has as much importance as this game," said Auburn free safety John Wiley, referring to the Tigers' victim in the season opener. "Whether we win or lose is the bottom line."
Auburn expects a more diversified attack than Tennessee showed last year, with quarterback Andy Kelly (56 of 92 for 704 yards and three touchdowns) complimenting Thompson (45 carries for 414 yards and seven TDs).
The Volunteers' offense has been devastating in their first four games, averaging 45.5 points and 487.8 yards per contest.
"We have to be able to run the ball and control the clock to keep our defense off the field," Wiley said. "We've got to put them in situations where they've got to throw. Then we've got to stop them."
That puts the pressure on a defensive line led by David Rocker, younger brother of 1988 Lombardi Trophy winner Tracy Rocker.
"This is Rocker number two, and he looks a lot like Rocker number one and the giants who preceded them through the years with size, strength, agility and mobility," said Tennessee coach John Majors.
Majors said he is just as concerned about Auburn's versatility on offense, although the running game has been overshadowed by White, a redshirt freshman.
"He's one of the most impressive young men I've seen at any position," the Tennessee coach said. "He doesn't look like a redshirt freshman. He's got a major league arm."
But White, despite completing 37 of 66 passes for 532 yards and five touchdowns in his first two starts, said he still has plenty of work to do.
"The main thing I want to do against Tennessee is not put our defense in pressure situations where they have to stop them every time," he said. "We have to move the ball enough so that when we punt, we'll back their offense up."
Auburn should have a big advantage playing at home, if the past decade is any indication. The Tigers have won only once in Knoxville since coach Pat Dye was hired in 1981, but Auburn is 4-0 against Tennessee at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"I'm not one of those coaches who says there's no advantage to playing at home," Dye said. "It's a hell of an advantage to play at home. I would much rather be playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium this weekend."