Two weeks ago we had probably our best run as a staff picking the right important players against Florida. Last week we had probably our best individual pick: Incipient_Senescence took Jauan Jennings and wears the golden sunsphere crown this week, all hail.
Will Shelton - Alvin Kamara
Jalen Hurd gets no action in the last 1.5 quarters in Athens, we get basically no word on what was wrong with him other than "lower extremity injury", and we get no worries in the Monday presser about his availability. Whatever was/is going on with Hurd, it only makes Kamara more important in a week where I think the Vols are going to have to score lots of points to win. His 16 carries tied a career high last week, getting 62 yards in a performance that was kind of Hurd-like. Tennessee will need more of that and more of his big play potential to get this thing done Saturday.
Incipient_Senescence -- Shy Tuttle
For as good as Tennessee's defensive line is on paper, they're not taking over games. Halves, perhaps, but not games. The run defense was downright bad against a Georgia team that had been struggling for weeks, and with a pair of second-string linebackers, it's hard to see much improvement unless the run-stuffers on the defensive line dominate at the point of attack.
Hunter Turner - Brett Kendrick
Offensive tackles Kendrick and Chance Hall will have their hands full this weekend with Texas A&M's ferocious defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. Offensive coordinator Mike Debord will vary the blocking scheme, call misdirection plays, and send running back and tight end help, but Kendrick and Hall will still need to play with focus and technique to avoid making crucial mistakes against the Aggies. Kendrick in particular needs to avoid his tendency to lunge and get off-balance that he sometimes demonstrates against speed rushing specialists.
Let's hope that Debord watched game tape of Garrett and former Florida defensive end Alex Brown and doesn't leave either Kendrick or Hall out on an island against a dangerous combo of defensive ends.
Justin Phillips - Colton Jumper (again)
The Aggies bring the most explosive offense in the conference into this Top Ten matchup, averaging 521 total yards per game. Additionally, Texas A & M has been balanced in its attack (262 yards passing per game/258 yards rushing), and oh yeah, they'll be at home. This means an incredible burden falls on the shoulders of Colton Jumper, who is becoming my weekly most important Vol. The Aggie offense is going to throw a lot of looks at Tennessee, as Stuart points out, so expect a healthy dose of "eye discipline" comments this week from the staff and players. The most ocularly disciplined player on the field will have to be Colton Jumper in order for the Vols to keep the winning streak alive for another week.
Volundore - Todd Kelly Jr./Micah Abernathy
Previous Volundore standbys like MLB and OL have already been covered, so like Bob Shoop at halftime, I guess I'll have to adjust. As Justin said, A&M leads the SEC with the 13th best offense in the nation. And individually...yikes, here be dragons. Running the ball, Trayveon Williams has averaged an absurd 9.6 yards per carry against FBS competition while Trevor Knight has been doing his best Josh Dobbs impersonation with 157 yards against Arkansas (!) and 84 more against South Carolina. Josh Reynolds averages almost 20 yards a catch, Ricky Seals-Jones almost 18 (though he was out last week), and Christian Kirk is lying in wait urging to break out.
When A&M runners make it through Tuttle and Jumper, Kelly and Abernathy need to keep 12-yard gains from becoming 70-yard touchdowns. When the ghost of Cam Sutton gets challenged downfield, they have to provide support over the top. Limiting explosive plays is crucial to keeping Tennessee in the game, and Kelly and Abernathy will be asked to help when the first two levels of the defense get beat.
Chris Pendley - Jauan Jennings
So, what've you got for the second encore, Jauan? I'm going to hope your fireworks come in the first half, but regardless, at some point, the spotlight's going to turn to you. You've shown twice now that you can deliver (and it's not going to get any more improbable than last week, unless we're just reliving 2013 Auburn in full and you're going to catch a 109-yard TD pass that ricochets off the crossbar like it's Arena Football), so if things go sideways in College Station, what've you got?
Break glass in case big, game-altering catches are needed. That sounds like the difference between a pretty good season and another game that'll get passed down through time, right?