KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin and Auburn’s Gene Chizik were the new additions to Southeastern Conference football’s coaching ranks this offseason, and right away the difference between the men appeared vast.
Kiffin is an offensive guy — and offended many with his boastful remarks from the moment he took over on Rocky Top. Chizik, a lifelong defensive coordinator, projected a more subdued persona. Chizik has let gregarious assistant coaches like Trooper Taylor, a former Volunteers staff member, share some of the limelight. Kiffin gags his assistants after games.
When it comes to evaluation of tonight’s SEC game between the Vols and Tigers (7:45 p.m., ESPN), though, both coaches are in lockstep agreement.
This is a big one.
“Going to Tennessee is going to be a huge indicator of who we are for the rest of the year,” said Chizik, who takes his Tigers (4-0, 1-0) into their first road game. “If you can go to a place like Tennessee and get a win, then it reveals more about your team and helps us into the month of October in a very good way.”
The Vols (2-2, 0-1) also are in need of a boost. Kiffin is still looking for his first win over a school from a Bowl Championship Series conference and is playing his first SEC home game.
He’s looking for the Neyland Stadium crowd to step it up against Auburn’s fast-paced and high-scoring spread offense orchestrated by coordinator Gus Malzahn.
“We have asked before about third down, but we are going to need it on first, second and third because they do a bunch of no-huddle and hurry-up stuff,” Kiffin said.
Tennessee’s defense is beat up. Linebacker Nick Reveiz (knee) is done for the year and end Chris Walker (back) might not play. Depth in the secondary also is an issue after watching Ohio throw for 300-plus yards in the absence of the suspended Dennis Rogan.
Still, Tennessee has yet to allow an opponent to score more than 23 points this season.
There’s plenty of urgency for the Vols’ offense to step up its production. Tennessee is next to last in turnover margin in the SEC, and strong play in the passing game has been absent beyond the season opener against Western Kentucky.
That likely means a steady diet of rushes with Montario Hardesty shouldering the load for Tennessee.
“Being a quarterback, you want to throw it but, at the same time, as a quarterback you know that the run game’s probably your best friend,” said Vols QB Jonathan Crompton, who has thrown eight interceptions through four games.
EXTRA POINTS: The Vols remain favored by 2½ points. … A pair of veteran offensive linemen might miss the contest. Tennessee left guard Vladimir Richard (knee) is doubtful while his Auburn counterpart, Byron Isom, was suspended indefinitely last week. … Tennessee has not entered the month of October with a plus-.500 record since the 2006 season.