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Staff Picks: Tennessee vs. Texas A&M

The picks are in.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Gameday has arrived once again, and the picks are in! Each of our writers have gone on the record, predicting how this one will play out.

On with the picks.

Terry: Tennessee 27, Texas A&M 24

I’ll be honest, I’m not super confident here. But at the end of the day I think Neyland Stadium matters. Tennessee is going to have a big challenge today against this A&M front, but I do feel like the wide splits and tempo of the Vols’ offense can neutralize some of that. Cooper Mays being back in the lineup is going to help quite a bit too, especially now with his first game back under his belt.

Tennessee is going to have to make a couple of plays in the passing game, and I think they do that today. I’m looking for some new wrinkles coming out of the bye, and I’m interested to see how the Aggies respond after dropping a tight one to Alabama last week.

This is a nice setup for the Volunteers, and I think they find a way to get the job done.

Nick: Tennessee 35, Texas A&M 28

This game, like many SEC games, will be decided at the line of scrimmage.

I’d prefer it be a night game, but still, Tennessee hasn’t lost a contest at Neyland for 12-straight games, while the Aggies haven’t beaten an opponent in the opposing team’s stadium in their last seven opportunities. Josh Heupel also hasn’t lost a game following an open week since he came to UT. All of those are important factors.

But if the offensive line can’t keep the vaunted Aggie defense — that leads the SEC with 26 sacks so far this year — away from Joe Milton, it could be a rough day.

The loss of Bru McCoy hurts here, especially with how much the offense has been stretching defenses horizontally this year compared to the past two seasons. The Vols don’t have another WR who’s showed the physical ability to block on the perimeter like McCoy.

As always, Tennessee needs to start fast and put a couple touchdowns on the board in the first quarter to keep the crowd in the game and work to demoralize the Aggies. And a defensive touchdown on a strip sack or a pick six wouldn’t hurt either.

We’ve known this would likely be a key a toss-up game since the schedule came out, so let’s hope the offensive line can execute and Milton or one of the trio of backs can hit a big play or two early and lead the Vols to the win.

Matt: Texas A&M 28, Tennessee 17

After long deliberation, I just don’t like this matchup at all for the Vols. A&M’s defensive front is as good as Tennessee will see all season, and I suspect this line struggles to create the necessary holes for these backs to get the big chunks on the ground to make Joe Milton’s life easier.

When all relies on Milton to get the offense going, odds are Tennessee’s offense will struggle. We have data points this season that adds this up. I do think this A&M secondary is exploitable, but accuracy has been a major concern with Milton all season, as has handling pressure, something the Aggies create a lot of.

I do think Tennessee’s defense has a really good day, but too many short fields create points on their own.

Craig: Tennessee 27, Texas A&M 23

The Aggies are sound against the run, having held down Alabama and Arkansas’ run game the last two weeks. However, Cooper Mays made a big difference against the Gamecocks per Joey Halzle in calling out assignment and protection responsibilities, and I think that matters again on Saturday.

A plodding game at times but one I’ll give the edge to the Vols at home.

Christian: Tennessee 30 Texas A&M 17

Look, I’ve gone back and forth on this game all week, but I’ll be honest — I kind of love this matchup for Tennessee. Neyland has become one of the toughest places to play in the country, and while they’ve had struggles on the road, Heupel always has them ready to play at home. On the flip side, aside from Alabama last year, Jimbo Fisher has continuously failed to have his team show up for big games.

From a side-by-side player comparison, I like Joe Milton a lot more than I like Max Johnson, a guy who time in and time out proves he doesn’t have the physical tools or skillset to beat a team. This is also the same Texas A&M that just let Jalen Milroe throw for his first 300 yard game of the season, so I think there’s a great opportunity for Joe Milton and the offense to find success.

On the defensive side of the ball, I’m looking for Tennessee’s pass rush to continue to wreak havoc. While this might be the SEC game of the week on CBS, I don’t expect it to be particularly close.