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Tennessee Volunteers vs. No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies: Game Preview

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The (regular) season finale has arrived.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Auburn
Isaiah Spiller is one of the SEC’s best running backs.
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Volunteers (3-6) will host the No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies (7-1) with the high hope of ending a dismal season in exciting fashion on Saturday. A win would mark Tennessee’s first win over a ranked opponent in 2020 and the first win over a top-5 team for Jeremy Pruitt.


Overview

  • All-time series: Tennessee leads the all-time series, 2-1.
  • Longest win streak: There hasn’t really been time to set up any streaks, but still, the Vols won the first two meetings.
  • Largest margin of victory: Tennessee crushed A&M, 38-7, back in the 2005 Cotton Bowl.
  • 2020 offensive and defensive rankings (SEC): The Vols are 10th in total offense (12th passing, 8th rushing) and seventh in total defense (11th passing, 5th rushing). The Aggies are fourth in total offense (9th passing, 2nd rushing) and second in total defense (3rd passing, 2nd rushing).

What To Watch For

  • The never-ending game of Quarterback Roulette: Whenever I speak on the quarterback position under Pruitt, I’m going to just reference it as “quarterback”. You no longer have a name when you play quarterback for Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee. You are just the position because the odds are that you’ll be sharing a lot of playing time with the other QBs on the roster. So, quarterbacks, get it done this weekend or else there is no shot at winning this game.
  • Tennessee’s ability to force turnovers: The Aggies have the lowest amount of total turnovers in the SEC and it all starts with quarterback Kellen Mond, who’s thrown an SEC-low two interceptions among quarterbacks with at least 85 attempts on the year. In fact, the Aggies average less than a turnover per game. A good way to throw A&M off course —and one of the main ways to win a football game— would be to steal a possession or two off of turnovers. Tennessee made a couple of big plays in this regard against Vanderbilt, so hopefully it can make it two weeks in a row.
  • Eric Gray vs. the A&M run defense: The Aggies run defense is good. Like really good. Arkansas’ Rakeem Boyd is the only running back to gain 100 yards in a game and the unit infamously held the Mississippi State Bulldogs to (-2) rushing yards for the entire game. Auburn was able to find some room on the ground in the last game. The Tigers ran for 196 yards on 30 carries. I’m sure the Vols’ coaching staff is looking hard at that game in order to see if they can’t borrow a play or two to run on Saturday.
  • Jimbo Fisher vs. Jeremy Pruitt: These two coached together and won a national championship with the Florida State Seminoles in 2013, so there is some familiarity, here. Jimbo is offense while Pruitt is defense, which should make for an interesting battle.

Impact Players

Tennessee Volunteers

  • Quarterback: As I mentioned earlier, whomever plays needs to be at their best if the Vols want a shot to win.
  • RB Eric Gray: It’s not much of a surprise, but Gray has developed into Tennessee’s best offensive player. The future is bright for this kid.
  • WR Jalin Hyatt: He’s had an impressive freshman year and will be a big-time problem if he continues to develop at this rate.
  • DL Matthew Butler: Can he build off an impressive showing against the Commodores?
  • OLB Deandre Johnson: Johnson has tailed off as the season has worn on. Maybe he’s saved his best game for last.
  • CB Bryce Thompson: The player we saw against the Commodores was the Bryce Thompson we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Hopefully last week reignited an internal fire or something.

Texas A&M Aggies

  • QB Kellen Mond: It’s still not what most eventually expected of Mond, but he’s had a very efficient year. The Vols will have their hands full when he comes to Neyland.
  • RB Isaiah Spiller: One of the SEC’s best backs and a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball.
  • TE Jalen Wydermeyer: The talented tight end leads the Aggies in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. He’s the focal point of the passing attack.
  • DL Bobby Brown III: The junior defensive tackle earned preseason first-team All-SEC honors and he’s lived up to them this year. Brandon Kennedy and the interior offensive line better be ready.
  • LB Buddy Johnson: There’s little question that Johnson is the heart and soul of the defense. He leads the team in tackles, has third-most tackles for loss and the fourth-most sacks, and is tied for the second-most interceptions on the team.
  • S Demani Richardson: It’ll be a major boost if Richardson plays in this game. He was an SEC All Freshman last year and has played well when healthy this year.
NCAA Football: Texas A&M at South Carolina
The vols have to be ready for the Mond-Wydermeyer connection.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Game Outlook

I think we all know that Tennessee is going to finish 3-7 on the year, but there is still some optimism that the Vols could close out on high note. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t winning this game, so a “high note” would simply be considered as a competitive game, in my book.