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A game of benches


This series will be everything we hoped it would. Prospects out of North Texas will see us on a grand stage every year, and you have to believe that we can beat the Aggies over and over.

I'd rather not have to feel so relieved about beating the fifth-best team in the Big 12 South, but something came over me midway through the second quarter of last Saturday's game. After stumbling around in a maze of their own frustration last week, our offense seemed to find their way out. Once the sputtering machine fired off, my sense of relief minimized the impact of each successive accomplishment. Only Ronnie Wingo's long run could wake me from that stupor.

Against A&M's over-matched offensive line, we saw what effective ends do to a running game. Jake Becquette, Tenarius Wright and Adrian Davis all had breakout performances. Still, the Aggies outgained us on offense, and we won't be so effective in the red zone against a better team.

Unfortunately, Auburn has a very strong left side, and we won't wear them down in the first half. These guys are conditioned to play eighty snaps a game. Auburn's offense resembles the Aggies' only superficially. It's an unpredictable monster that decimated arguably the best defense in our conference last week. Gus Malzahn will keep our front seven busy with lots of pulling lineman and down blocks, and he'll confuse our secondary with the Tigers' ability to deploy a whole range of plays out of any given formation.

Our success will depend almost entirely on focus and discipline. That's not at all encouraging.

I actually started feeling sorry for the Vols toward the end of the third quarter. Lane Kiffin was forced to desperate measures, going for it on fourth down late in the third quarter from his own 29-yard line just to give his gasping defense time to catch their breath. It was actually a high-percentage play, but the game was still within reach and most coaches would have avoided the risk if given the option. Kiffin didn't have a choice. His defense was in trouble.

Now that our running game seems more effective, we'll be able to slow the game down a bit. Auburn's defense hasn't really been tested yet, but they've given up plenty of points — just never enough to actually lose a game. We'll be able to score on them, but it's more important for us to convert third downs and give our D long breathers between possessions. This will be a game of benches, of whoever has the freshest legs down the stretch. The best way to beat the Tigers on defense will be to beat them on offense.

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