Preview: No. 9 Tennessee at No. 8 Texas A&M

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    Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

    Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

    No. 9 Tennessee (5-0, 2-0 SEC) at No. 8 Texas A&M (5-0, 3-0 SEC)

    Saturday, 3:30 pm ET

    Kyle Field (102,733) • College Station, TX.

    TV: CBS

    Series Record: Tennessee leads 2-0

     Setting the table

    The Vols are coming off one of the most improbable victories they’ve ever heard. Tennessee is riding high off a Hail Mary victory over Georgia and has two wins over their biggest SEC East rivals. It’s the first time since 1998 the Vols have started a season 5-0, and they’re back in the top 10 in the AP and Coaches Poll.

    But Texas A&M is riding a high of their own. In fact, the Aggies are ranked one spot higher than the Vols in the AP Poll.

    Texas A&M is also 5-0 and has won three straight SEC games coming into this one. The Aggies own victories over Auburn, Arkansas, and South Carolina.

    Right now, Texas A&M is a 6.5 point favorite, and based on match-ups, Tennessee’s injuries, and home field advantage, that seems fair. But if the last two weeks have taught us anything, it’s that you can’t count out the Vols, especially if it’s a close game in the fourth quarter.

     Who has the edge

    When Tennessee throws…

    Tennessee’s passing offense has taken off over the last two weeks. Josh Dobbs has more consistently connected with receivers, and both the wide receivers and running backs have stepped up their games. Dobbs has thrown for 549 yards and 7 TDs over the last two games, and given that Texas A&M has the 13th-ranked overall pass defense in the SEC, he should be able to find some space through the air if he can stay upright. The Aggies’ pass rush is no joke, however, and Dobbs will likely have to roll out and extend plays to make the passing game effective. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee

    When Tennessee runs…

    A lot of this depends on the availability of Jalen Hurd. Right now it doesn’t look like he will play, and that gives more of an edge to the Aggies. Alvin Kamara is a more than capable running back and has big play potential, but Hurd is a bruiser that plays a pivotal part in Tennessee’s offense. Throw in the fact that the Aggies’ run defense has been fairly stout (134.8 yards per game allowed), and the numbers don’t look very favorable for the Vols. Edge: Slightly to Texas A&M

    When Texas A&M throws…

    Trevor Knight may have a worse completion percentage than Josh Dobbs, but he has an extremely talented receiving corps to throw to. And he’s plenty talented as a passer as well as a runner, just like Dobbs. The Aggies boast the deepest and most talented receiving corps the Vols will face this season, and with Cam Sutton still out and both of Tennessee’s starting linebackers out as well, the Aggies have the clear advantage here. Edge: Texas A&M 

    When Texas A&M runs…

    Texas A&M used to be known as a finesse school that masked a lot of their weaknesses with window dressing and fancy plays. Not anymore, however. The Aggies have the No. 2 overall rushing attack in the SEC just behind Auburn, and they don’t have just one option to run it. Trayveon Williams is the starting running back, but Keith Ford runs it well too, and quarterback Trevor Knight is potent on the ground as as well. Tennessee’s run defense has dropped off this season because of the number of injuries their linebacking corps has faced, and those injuries could take their toll in this game. Edge: Texas A&M

    On special teams…

    Both the Vols and Aggies have dangerous special teams players. Texas A&M has a better overall punt return game, but the Vols have a better overall kick return game. And both are good at both aspects. And both teams have done well with field goal kicking and punting. In short, both have really good special teams units that can change a game. If either one gets a chance to make a play in this game, look out. Edge: Even

     Best-case scenario for UT 

    The Vols use the momentum from the last two weeks to start better against the Aggies. Tennessee overcomes their multitude of injuries and is able to limit the effectiveness of Texas A&M’s dangerous offense. A win would give Tennessee even more breathing room in the SEC East, and it would set up one of the biggest games in Knoxville history when Alabama comes to town for the Third Saturday in October.

     Worst-case scenario for UT

    Texas A&M comes out hot and puts Tennessee in another three-score deficit. Only this time, the Vols can’t recover in the second half and put themselves into too deep of a hole on the road in College Station. The Aggies offense comes out and beats Tennessee’s beleaguered defense in all phases, and the Vols leave wishing Florida and LSU had played in hopes that the Gators would’ve lost on Saturday too.

     How we think it’ll play out

    Texas A&M will be Tennessee’s toughest test thus far, and the RTI team is far less confident about this game than the previous two. The Aggies have one of the best offenses in the country through five games, and the Vols’ injuries keep piling up. Tennessee has the talent and the mentality to go on the road and win, and they shouldn’t be counted out at all considering how their season has gone so far. This will be the first time the two teams have faced each other since A&M joined the SEC, and it should be a good one regardless.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.