Five keys to Tennessee pulling off the upset against No. 5 Texas A&M

    by -

    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.

    These are the five things the Vols must accomplish if they’re going to pull off the upset against the Aggies:

    Slow down Texas A&M’s rushing attack

    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).

    Contain Kellen Mond

    Texas A&M’s offense is run-heavy given the talents of its backs, but its also a very balanced offense as well. Despite a wide receiver room that has been decimated due to injuries, opt outs and transfers, the Aggie offense ranks fifth in scoring offense (31.4 points), second in rushing offense (201.25 yards), fifth in passer rating (146.83) and fourth in total offense (429.8 yards).

    The Aggies are able to be so balanced because they have a veteran quarterback in Mond who is playing really good football. Mond’s passer rating of 146.45 ranks fifth-best and only trails Mac Jones, Kyle Trask, Matt Corral and Feleipe Franks. He’s thrown for 1,769 yards and 18 touchdowns to just two interceptions. No starting quarterback in the SEC has thrown fewer interceptions than Mond.

    Mond’s life has been made easier by one of the best offensive lines in the entire country, not just the SEC. Texas A&M’s o-line was nominated for the Joe Moore Award, which is given out annually to the best offensive line in all of college football.

    Win the interior of the trenches

    Texas A&M is able to run the ball so well on offense because of its offensive line. Just like the offense, the best part about the Aggies’ defense is the line of scrimmage. 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.

    Find success on third down

    If Tennessee is going to find success against Texas A&M, it has to find ways to sustain drives by converting third downs. And it must find ways to get off the field on third downs defensively, keeping the Aggies’ rushing attack off the field. The Vols have struggled mightily on the money down this season.

    Tennessee is the worst third down offense in the SEC. It’s converting on third down just 30.89% of the time. Texas A&M’s third down defense is the best in the conference. The Aggies are allowing opponents to convert 36.27% of the time.

    The Aggies’ third down offense is one of the best in the SEC, converting 54.72% of the time to rank second-best. Tennessee’s third down defense ranks 10th, as it is allowing opponents to convert for a first down on 45.11 of the third downs they face.

    Win the turnover battle

    In order to pull off an upset, the underdogs must generate extra opportunities. Tennessee must find ways to give its offense an extra possession or two and the best way to do so is by forcing turnovers. Just one extra possession likely isn’t good enough either.

    On the flip side of needing to generate extra opportunities, UT’s offense can’t give away possessions. True freshman Harrison Bailey must continue to protect the football in what is expected to be his third career start. Redshirt-sophomore JT Shrout is also expected to continue to receive playing time. Shrout must continue to protect the football as well, which he has done a pretty good job of doing so lately.