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What to watch: Auburn vs Tennessee edition

The Auburn Tigers come off their extended break to face the Tennessee Volunteers today. Auburn’s last game was their best performance of the season, a 48-11 drubbing of LSU. However, that contest was 21 days ago since the Tigers had a scheduled bye week and then an unexpected missed game against Mississippi State because of COVID-19 concerns.

The Volunteers have not been away from action as long as Auburn, but they too had a last week’s matchup postponed due to COVID-19. That could be a good thing for the Vols because it gave them extra time to prepare for Auburn following a rough loss to Arkansas in their most recent game.

Take a look at three key factors that will play a big role in determining who comes away victorious in today’s matchup between Auburn and Tennessee in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

COVID-19 absences
Neither coaching staff has provided a list of players that will be held out of today’s game because of positive COVID-19 tests. However, it is safe to assume that both teams will be missing athletes today. It is a certainty that Auburn will have players unavailable today because of the 14-day waiting period after a positive COVID-19 test.

There is no point in speculating exactly who may or may not be held out today, but it is obvious that if either team has key players unavailable for the game, then that will be a challenge for the team to overcome. Once players take the field for warm-ups this afternoon, everyone will have a clearer picture of availabilities and absences.

Auburn’s long layoff
People often debate whether or not momentum is a real thing in sports. Sometimes people are referencing a specific stretch of an individual game, other times the context is that of a series of games in a season. As analytics have moved more front and center of sports discussion and decision making, the idea of a team creating and carrying momentum has lessened.

However, there is no doubt that confidence and success work together in a self-fulfilling cycle where some of one tends to lead to more of the other. The reason this is important today is that Auburn put together its best game of the year against LSU three weeks ago, and has not had a chance to build on it since then.

The Tigers will likely need to shake off a little bit of rust in order to recapture the rhythm and confidence that was found in the big win the last time Auburn took the field. If Auburn is unable to get off to a quick start or settle into the flow of the game early, that could provide Tennessee a chance to gain a foothold in a contest that they are double-digit underdogs.

Tennessee’s quarterback situation
The last time Tennessee made the trip to Auburn, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano led the Vols to a 30-24 victory in Jordan-Hare Stadium. That day, Guarantano passed for 328 yards and two touchdowns and proved to be the difference in the game. However, this year in Guarantano’s senior season, things have not gone very smoothly. The Volunteers enter the contest on a four-game losing streak, and three different quarterbacks got an opportunity to play in the most recent loss to Arkansas.

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt declined to give much insight into the quarterback situation earlier in the week other than to say that multiple guys have gotten reps at practice and have looked good doing so. Regardless of whether Guarantano, freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey, sophomore quarterback JT Shrout or anyone else takes snaps for the Vols today, Tennessee must get good production from that critical position to have a chance to win.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @z_m_shaw