I’ve hated this game for Tennessee since the moment I saw it on the schedule. I somewhat blindly picked A&M in the preseason for this game just going on a gut feeling, and I’m sticking with that.
All the turmoil at A&M late last season and into the offseason made me think for awhile that this might work out well for UT. But as has been the case with UT’s opponents from the West since 2011, Texas A&M, of course, becomes one of the hottest teams as soon as it rotates onto UT’s schedule.
And while I think UT has the talent on its roster to go to College Station and get this win, I also think this is the week that all the injuries – and some of the sloppy play – catches up to the Vols.
The Aggies are a bit beat up as well, but Tennessee is worse off in that category. Without Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Cam Sutton and quite possibly Jalen Hurd, Tennessee is without four of its best 10 players or so. That’s a lot to overcome. Players such as Alvin Kamara, Colton Jumper, Emmanuel Moseley and Cortez McDowell are all capable SEC-level guys, but it’s just tough to replace the talent and experience from that injury list.
These teams mirror each other in many ways.
Trevor Knight and Joshua Dobbs are both great leaders who might not always make it look pretty, but they find ways to make plays with their arm and feet. Both sides should be able to move the ball with some regularity on the condition that they can each block the opposing defensive front with regularity. If Derek Barnett can take over the game defensively, that will be a huge boost for UT. Same goes for A&M with Myles Garrett. If not, I see both passing attacks having strong days, with both Trayveon Williams and Alvin Kamara also making some big runs for their respective teams.
I see this as a competitive game with Tennessee trying to keep pace with the Aggies for much of the afternoon. In the end, the home-field edge, combined with the pile of injuries for UT, will just be a little bit too much for the Vols to overcome. The Vols will keep it within a score until late, but A&M will tack on a late score to get the win and the cover.
Pick: Texas A&M 38-27
MVP: Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight
Knight will become the first opposing quarterback that I can remember to beat the Vols at different schools. He played well against Tennessee when he was at Oklahoma in 2014, and I predict he will do it again this year. He’s not a real flashy guy – his final stat line won’t be massive necessarily. But he makes big plays, and I think his athleticism will keep Tennessee off balance enough that he’ll be able to make some plays on the ground, and find good matchups in the secondary for his receivers.
This will easily be the most talented team the Vols have faced at this point, and the match-ups they present aren’t favorable to Tennessee at all.
Both teams have injuries that could greatly affect the outcome of this game, but Tennessee has more of them to more key players. And they are in spots that make Texas A&M’s offense look even more dangerous.
The Aggies have one of the most potent rushing attacks in the country. Running back Keith Ford is expected to be out, but quarterback Trevor Knight and running back Trayveon Williams are perfectly capable of tearing up defenses on the ground. In fact, Knight has more rushing yards than Tennessee’s own Josh Dobbs. Throw in the most talented and deep receiving corps the Vols will face all season, and containing the Aggies’ offense will be a tall task.
Texas A&M’s defense is also loaded with talent, particularly on the defensive line. The Vols’ offensive line has looked better since the return of Chance Hall, but this will be their toughest test to date. Dobbs’ escapability will be put to the test in this one.
Tennessee is down running back Jalen Hurd, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., and cornerback Cam Sutton. You simply cannot count out these Vols given how they’ve won this season, but this one might be just too tall a task given the location, their injuries, and the bad match-ups.
Pick: Texas A&M 41-24
MVP: Trevor Knight
Looks like it’s a clean sweep for MVP. If the Vols are able to pull out the victory, their MVP will be Josh Dobbs. If the Aggies win, it will be because of their quarterback, Trevor Knight. Tennessee’s defense can get pressure on Knight, but he’s been able to escape it a lot this year. If he’s able to do it again in this one, he’ll have a big night.
Before I start, I think it needs to be stated that injuries on both teams make this game a little hazy to predict. That being said, I do have some thoughts…
In my opinion the most important defensive statistic is points allowed, and Texas A&M is sitting pretty at number 12 in the nation in that category, allowing just 15.4 points per game. And other than Praire View, who they shut out, all of their opponents have been Power Five teams. In other words, the Aggies have a legit defense.
And they aren’t slouching on offense either. Led by former Oklahoma transfer quarterback Trevor Knight, A&M is putting up a whopping 39 points per game to Tennessee’s 33. They have proven to have weapons on both sides of the ball and easily be Tennessee’s biggest challenge to date.
In order for Tennessee to win this game, everyone not named Josh Dobbs and Derek Barnett need to step up. I say that because Dobbs and Barnett have already proven he will step up in big games. And perhaps most importantly, this team can’t afford to start slow and not score in all four quarters. They will need 60 minutes of high-powered, fast-paced scoring drives to win this game – which they are definitely capable of.
I know all of that stuff sounds obvious, but it’s still true. And funny enough, when both teams are fully healthy, they are actually very similar. They both have a senior-leading QB, similar offensive schemes, explosive defenses that pressure opposing quarterbacks, and even relatively young coaches (Jones is 48 and Sumlin is 52). If this were a neutral site game with no injuries, it would be a very, very close game.
Going back to what I originally said, both teams have injuries which make this game a little harder to predict. And if you remember, I picked Tennessee in this game in the preseason. But unfortunately, I don’t know if Tennessee’s injuries will be enough to beat Texas A&M in College Station. And you can only make so many comebacks before your luck runs out.
Pick: Texas A&M 38-30
MVP: Trevor Knight
I’ll be honest here, I expect Tennessee to get some pressure on Trevor Knight. But he is arguably the best quarterback this Vols defense has faced to date. And without three of their best defensive players, they haven’t looked that great in the pass-defense category. Not to mention the Aggies arguably have one of the best receiving groups in the country. It may be a 250 passing/60 rushing/ 4 total touchdown kind of day for Knight if this game becomes a shootout.