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Examining the Matchups: No. 5 Texas A&M vs. Tennessee

Tennessee will be looking to pull off the upset on Senior Day when No. 5 Texas A&M arrives inside of Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

The Aggies have much to play for. They have an outside shot of making the College Football Playoffs if they can take care of business and prevent the Vols from playing spoiler. Texas A&M would also need No. 7 Florida to upset No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in order to have a chance.

Tennessee is coming off of a 42-17 win over Vanderbilt to snap a six-game losing streak. Harrison Bailey started at quarterback for the Vols and threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns in his second career start. JT Shrout also played quite a bit, throwing for 90 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Texas A&M beat Auburn 31-20 in its last game out. The Aggies were scheduled to play Ole Miss last weekend, but the game was cancelled due to COVID-19 issues within the Rebels’ program.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, Rocky Top Insider takes a look at which team has what advantages over the other.

Tennessee’s passing attack vs. Texas A&M’s pass defense

The strength of Texas A&M’s defense is its defensive front and its ability to stop opposing teams from running the football. As good as the Aggies’ rush defense is, their pass defense is just as good. A&M is allowing just 228.8 passing yards per game, the third-fewest in the SEC.

As Tennessee fans are well aware of, UT’s passing offense has struggled mightily this season. The Vols have finally moved on from Jarrett Guarantano and found some success in the passing game with Harrison Bailey and J.T. Shrout over the past two games. But it’s come against poor defenses in Florida and Vanderbilt.

Edge: Texas A&M

Texas A&M’s passing attack vs. Tennessee’s pass defense

Texas A&M’s offense and defense mirror each other. Everyone immediately looks at the running game when evaluating both units, but the passing game is sneaky good on both sides of the ball. The Aggies are simply extremely balanced on offense and defense.

A&M quarterback Kellen Mond hasn’t lit up stat sheet like Alabama’s Mac Jones or Florida’s Kyle Trask, but he’s been just as efficient. Mond has the fifth-best quarterback rating (146.65) and has thrown the fewest interceptions (2) amongst SEC starting quarterbacks. He’s done so despite a wide receiver room that has been decimated due to injuries, opt outs and transfers.

Texas A&M only has redshirt freshman Chase Lane and junior Hezekiah Jones as current healthy wide receivers on the roster with more than six receptions on the year. Sophomore tight end Jalen Wydermyer offsets much of the concern with the lack of weapons in the passing game. Wydermyer is one of the best tight ends in the country and will be a nightmare matchup for a Tennessee passing defense that ranks 10th in the SEC with a defensive passer rating of 151.

Edge: Texas A&M

Tennessee’s rushing attack vs. Texas A&M’s rush defense

Texas A&M’s defensive front is dominant. It’s led to defensive coordinator Mike Elko being nominated for the Broyles Award, which is awarded to the top assistant coach in college football every year.

It all starts in the interior for A&M up front defensively. The senior duo of Bobby Brown and Jayden Peevy to go along with freshman McKinnley Jackson is as good as they come. They stay in their lanes, consistently effecting the running game, and they also push the pocket, disrupting opposing quarterbacks.

It’ll be a tough task for the Vols to run the ball consistently against A&M. The interior of Tennessee’s offensive line, led by Trey Smith, must win their matchup. Making life even more difficult for the Vols, true freshman Cooper Mays may be making his third career start at center in the absence of starter Brandon Kennedy. Tennessee will also be without its right guard, as Cade Mays will not play due to injury. Junior Jerome Carvin is expected to play in the older Mays’ absence.

The Vols are averaging 154.56 rushing yards per game, good enough for eighth-most in the SEC. Texas A&M possesses the second-best rushing defense in the conference. The Aggies are allowing just 100.75 rushing yards per game.

Edge: Texas A&M

Texas A&M’s rushing attack vs. Tennessee’s rush defense

Texas A&M’s rushing attack is as good as you’ll find in the country, specifically it’s inside zone run game. If A&M gets the inside zone run going, then it’ll be yet another big game for the Aggies on the ground as they wear down the Vols and control the game.

Running back Isaiah Spiller is the head of the spear. The SEC’s second-leading rusher at 112 yards per game and 5.94 yards per carry is a violent rusher. Spiller has rushed for 897 yards and six touchdowns on 151 carries.

It’s not just Spiller that gives opposing defenses nightmares. Texas A&M can also roll out true freshman Devon Achane and sophomore Ainias Smith, in addition to star quarterback Kellen Mond. Achane is averaging 7.2 yards per carry, while Smith is averaging 5.4 yards, respectively. Mond has only rushed for 199 yards this season, but defenses must account for his legs.

Texas A&M is coming off a season-high 313 rushing yards against Auburn. The Aggies as a team currently rank second in the SEC in average rushing yards per game (201.25) and lead the SEC in yards per attempt (5.48).

EdgeTexas A&M

Tennessee’s special teams vs. Texas A&M’s special teams

Without Brent Cimaglia, Tennessee has a major concern at the kicking position. Walk-on Toby Wilson looked good on extra points against Vanderbilt, making all six of his attempts, but he did not attempt a field goal. That’s nerve-racking for a team that must squeeze out every point it can get.

A&M junior kicker Seth Small has been effective this season, though he hasn’t had many opportunities. Small is 7-of-9 on the season when attempting a field goal. His long this season is from 41-yards out.

Paxton Brooks has been really good punting the ball of late for the Vols. For the season, Brooks is averaging 43.31 yards per punt, which is fifth-best in the SEC. Texas A&M freshman punter is averaging 40.03 yards per punt.

Tennessee is better at punter, but because of the uncertainty at kicker with the Vols, the Aggies get the edge on special teams.

Edge: Texas A&M

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