No. 11 Auburn, Vanderbilt streaking into meeting
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Cornerback Josh Holsey remembers well the last time Auburn played Vanderbilt. It was 2012, and the Tigers were on their way to a winless Southeastern Conference season that culminated with the firing of coach Gene Chizik.
No. 11 Auburn, now ranked ninth in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, appears headed in a very different direction heading into the rematch Saturday four years after that 17-14 defeat.
''I was on the field when we lost,'' the Tigers' Holsey said. ''It kind of sucks. That was a very long trip back, too.
''We have to make sure I can come away at least 1-1 with those guys before I leave Auburn.''
Auburn (6-2, 4-1) has much higher stakes this time around against the Commodores (4-4, 1-3). The Tigers are riding a five-game winning streak that has put them in contention for the SEC West title and into the playoff mix.
The Commodores (4-4, 1-3), who are coming off an open date, also have some momentum after wins over Georgia and Tennessee State. They haven't won three games in a row or beaten a ranked team since 2013 and are 26-point underdogs in this one.
''We've got our hands full, but we've had a chance to do some things ourselves,'' Vandy coach Derek Mason said. ''Definitely excited about what's happening.''
The game features the SEC's top two rushers, Auburn's Kamryn Pettway and Vandy's Ralph Webb. Webb faces a defense that has allowed only four rushing touchdowns.
Some other things to watch in the Vanderbilt-Auburn game:
FOCUSED IN: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and players insist there's no danger of the Tigers overlooking Vandy while thinking about the Georgia game or an Alabama showdown with potentially huge stakes. The Commodores have already upset Georgia.
PETTWAY'S STREAK: No running back in the country gained more than Pettway's 199 yards per game in the month of October. The 6-foot, 240-pounder has averaged 32 carries in the last three games for the nation's No. 3 running team. ''When you see (No.) 36 rolling down hill, that dude's a monster,'' Mason said.
PROTECT THE BALL: Vanderbilt is tied for first in the SEC and 20th nationally in turnover margin at plus 6, forcing a combined 13 fumbles and interceptions. The Commodores have lost just seven with three fumbles and four interceptions. ''They don't beat themselves,'' Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. ''They make you earn it.''
WATCH FOR CUNNINGHAM: The Commodores rank seventh in the SEC and 59th nationally in run defense, a unit anchored by the league's top tackler in junior linebacker Zach Cunningham. He is averaging 10.6 tackles per game and has 85 tackles through eight games - 14 more than the next closet tacklers with eight games played. Cunningham's key stop on fourth-and-1 in Athens preserved Vandy's 16-15 win over Georgia on Oct. 15.
TONY STEVENS: The status of Auburn leading receiver Tony Stevens remains a mystery. Stevens sat out the Mississippi game with an undisclosed injury. He has 24 catches for 408 yards and three touchdowns, all team highs.
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