Nine pass attempts.

A stat line usually associated with teams running the triple option offense, not top-10 ranked SEC powerhouses who control their own destiny in a division of college football's toughest conference.

Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers, however, went against the norm last weekend in their road win over Arkansas, bullying the Razorbacks with 233 rushing yards and four ground scores en route to a 35-17 blowout win.

And yes, the pigskin fluttered through the air a measly nine times in the Tigers' fifth consecutive victory as they improved to 8-1 (4-1 SEC).

"We were able to run the football," Malzahn said following the Arkansas win. "Our mindset coming into this thing was we felt like we had to run the football. I think we only threw it nine times, and for the most part we were very successful running it."

While the first-year head coach doesn't expect that lopsided of a final total in Saturday's contest versus Tennessee, he knows his team's success depends heavily on the ground attack's consistent production.

"That's where it's got to start with us," Malzahn told reporters Tuesday. "We definitely need to establish the run, but obviously you've got to be balanced. You've got to be able to take what the defense gives you."

A heavy dose of Tre Mason and Nick Marshall is what most opponents have received throughout 2013 as the two anchor an explosive and dynamic Tiger offense that ranks third in yards per game (494.9) and first in red zone conversions inside the SEC.

"I don't know if you are ever prepared for them," UT head coach Butch Jones said. "Extremely talented, great team speed, obviously ... They can pound you. They can throw the football ... They are a top-ten opponent. It is going to be a great challenge."

In his second season as Auburn's primary back, Mason has established himself as a typical SEC workhorse, averaging nearly 18 carries and 103 rushing yards per contest.

In addition, the Palm Beach, Fla., native has performed at his best on the road, amassing seven touchdowns and almost 500 total yards in three games away from Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"The running back in Mason, he's been there," UT linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said, who was an Auburn assistant from 2009-12. "He started for them last season. Gained over a thousand yards last year, and is on his way for another thousand-yard season this year."

For Marshall, the transfer back to the SEC has been a relatively successful one after lighting up the JUCO ranks for over 4,200 total yards in his sophomore season. The former Georgia Bulldog cornerback has fit perfectly into Malzahn's up-tempo system, showcasing his skills as a highly-feared, dual-threat quarterback.

"They've got a dynamic quarterback, and a ton of confidence," Thigpen said. "He's probably the most electric player that I've seen, and we've seen quite a few really good mobile quarterbacks, but he's as good as any we've seen. He's fast. The kids really believe in him."

Through nine games, the junior signal caller has rushed for 520 yards and thrown for another 1,266 with almost half of those going to sophomore wide receiver Sammie Coates. Marshall did suffer a shoulder injury two weeks ago versus Florida Atlantic but is expected to be full-go against the Volunteers.

"He's been doing everything (at practice)," Malzahn said Wednesday. "It's pretty much like it was before, so we're getting back in a routine."

Defensively, Auburn thrives in the red zone, allowing just a 70 percent conversion rate, good for 11th nationally and second in the conference. In addition, the Tiger secondary is one of only four SEC squads with double digit interceptions (10).

"Auburn runs a lot of man (coverage)," UT wide receiver Alton "Pig" Howard said. "They've got talent all around the secondary. They've got athletes. They're a quick-tempo team, and at the end of the day, they've got confidence because they've beaten a lot of great football teams."

Confident? Yes, but according to Malzahn, nothing's changed mentality-wise despite the season-long success.

"I really feel like this team's grounded," Malzahn said Tuesday. "They've bought into taking it one game at a time. I don't hear anybody talking about anything but looking forward. There's a lot of maturity from our older guys as far as leadership. They've done a very good job in that area."