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AUBURN, Alabama -- That Auburn team everyone was talking about over the summer finally showed up.
Carnell Williams rushed for 185 yards and a touchdown and Jason Campbell threw for a pair of scores as Auburn withstood a late rally and held off seventh-ranked Tennessee, 28-21, in a Southeastern Conference game.
The Tigers were one of college football's preseason darlings, tagged as the preseason No. 1 by some media outlets. But Auburn fell off the radar screen and out of the rankings with September losses to Southern California and Georgia Tech in which it did not score a touchdown.
A national title may be out of the question, but the Tigers (3-2, 2-0 SEC West) showed plenty of life on Saturday and remain very much alive for a BCS berth.
"Obviously, we've improved over the last month," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I'm proud of the team. They stayed positive. They stayed focused. Overall, it was a tremendous football game for us."
Auburn built a 14-point lead in the first quarter and a 21-point advantage early in the fourth, but the victory was not assured until the final minute.
Casey Clausen of Tennessee threw for 355 yards and a pair of scores and moved the Volunteers to the Auburn 29 before he was picked off by Carlos Rogers.
Tennessee (4-1, 2-1 SEC East), which was given its last chance after John Vaughn missed a 46-yard field goal attempt, was not ready for the quick start by Auburn.
"They came ready to play tonight," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
The Volunteers could not establish a running game, finishing with a mere four yards on 16 carries, as its national title hopes took a notable hit.
"It was our game plan to take away the run," Auburn linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "When we did that, they came out in the second half and Clausen was making changes at the line."
Cedric Houston of the Volunteers had 10 yards on five carries. Auburn came out on a mission, marching 80 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown in the opening possession of the game. Williams, who carried 36 times, broke off consecutive runs of 16 and 14 yards. Ronnie Brown later had a 12-yard run before racing six yards for a score to make it 7-0.
Following a punt by Tennessee, Auburn marched 86 yards in seven plays, capped by a 29-yard touchdown pass from Campbell to Ben Obomanu.
The Tigers had a chance to add to their lead, but Vaughn missed a 37-yard field goal attempt and Williams fumbled the ball away at the Tennessee 19. Those missed chances forced the Tigers to sweat in the fourth quarter.
The Volunteers finally showed some life late in the second quarter, marching 84 yards in 10 plays, with Jabari Davis scoring on a one-yard TD run with 26 seconds left in the half.
Auburn regained the momentum in the third quarter, marching 66 yards in 16 plays, including a one-yard TD run by Williams that made it 21-7.
The game was particularly enjoyable for Williams, who was recruited by Tennessee before settling on Auburn.
"Tennessee has a great tradition with a lot of great running backs. I had a great opportunity out of high school to go there and play for a great coaching staff," Williams said. "Auburn felt like home. Tonight made this win feel more special."
The Tigers appeared to be in total control when Campbell found Cole Bennett in the back of the end zone early in the fourth quarter to make it 28-7.
Campbell completed 11-of-18 passes for 157 yards.
But once again Tennessee did not go quietly. Clausen threw a 16-yard TD pass to James Banks with 12:01 left and followed with a 28-yard TD pass to Chris Hannon with 7:53 left.
Clausen completed 30-of-47 passes and was intercepted twice.
"We didn't need to spot them 14 points," Clausen said. "We knew it was going to be tough coming back, but we never gave up."
Tennessee lost to Auburn for the first time in five meetings.