Tennessee lost to No. 5 Texas A&M 34-13 on Saturday afternoon inside of Neyland Stadium to finish the regular season 3-7. The loss marked seven losses in the last eight games for the Vols after beginning the season 2-0. They lost five home games by an average of 22.0 points per game.
The Vols struck first on a 33-yard passing touchdown from Harrison Bailey to Jacob Warren. It sparked hope that Tennessee could potentially hang around, but A&M proceeded to score on all four of its offensive possessions in the first half. A 46-yard touchdown pass from J.T. Shrout to Cedric Tillman made it a four-point game with 4:08 remaining in the second quarter, but the Aggies responded with a four-yard rushing touchdown to take a 24-13 lead into halftime.
Texas A&M pitched a shutout in the second half defensively to close out the game. The Vols didn’t score over the final 30 minutes while the Aggies scored twice to close out the 21-point win. For the game, A&M scored on six of their nine possessions. The Aggies were in the victory formation on one of the three drives it did not score.
Here’s a look at the position grades from Tennessee’s final game of the regular season:
Tennessee’s running backs had a miserable day running the football in the absence of Eric Gray, who was simply “unavailable” according to Pruitt following the game. Ty Chandler was in charge of filling Gray’s shoes and only managed to rush for 31 yards on seven carries. The offensive line did the running backs no favors, but the group only rushed for 36 yards on nine carries.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Tennessee’s tight ends had its best game of the season. Not only did Warren catch his first career touchdown, but he and Princeton Fant had three catches on the first two drives of the game as Jim Chaney looked to get them involved. It was there only three catches of the game but it was a nice step for the position after being non-existent for much of the year.
The receivers didn’t have a very productive afternoon. Josh Palmer was the leading receiver with three catches for 55 yards, while Tillman made a great catch on his first career touchdown. Velus Jones did not have a catch.
Tennessee’s offensive line had a miserable day against one of the most physical defensive fronts in all of college football. Texas A&M consistently generated pressure and blew up run plays. UT’s offense only totaled 213 yards of offense and the main reason was because of the Aggies domination in the trenches.
Tennessee’s defensive line also struggled in the trenches. Not as much as UT’s offensive line, but Texas A&M’s inside zone run attack didn’t meet much resistance. The Aggies rushed for 216 yards and three touchdowns as they averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Tennessee’s defensive front also struggled to push the pocket and disrupt Kellen Mond.
It wasn’t just on the defensive line when it came to Tennessee’s inability to disrupt Mond. The A&M quarterback faced zero pressure off of the edge and it led to him completing 26 of his 32 passing attempts. It didn’t help that when it did generate pressure, it was erased by self-inflicted wounds like a hands-to-the-face penalty against Deandre Johnson.
The inside backers not only struggled to slow down A&M’s rushing attack spear-headed by Isaiah Spiller who rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, but they also struggled to slow him down in the passing game. Spiller was the Aggies’ second-leading receiver as a result of Tennessee failing to locate him out of the backfield. He consistently leaked out and picked up multiple first downs on six catches for 60 yards.
Mond didn’t complete 81.2% his passes simply because he had all day to throw the football. That was a big reason why, but Mond’s receivers were running wide open all day long despite A&M entering the day with two wide receivers who had more than six catches on the season. Alontae Taylor did record an interception, but it was yet another rough outing for Pruitt’s defensive back room.
Toby Wilson was a perfect 6-for-6 on extra points against Vanderbilt last week, replacing Brent Cimaglia with no problems. He didn’t attempt a field goal for a second consecutive week, but he did get two cracks at an extra point. Wilson missed one of them.
Paxton Brooks had another great job punting the football. Brooks punted the ball four times for an average of 47.1 yards per punt. His longest punt traveled 61-yards and he downed one punt inside of the 20 while two of his punts traveled longer than 50-yards.
In the return game, Tennessee had a costly block in the back penalty negate a nice kick return from Velus Jones.
Saturday’s performance was another poor reflection of the coaching job Pruitt and his staff have done this season. There’s a reason Tennessee is 3-7 and questions surround Pruitt’s job. The loss to Texas A&M displayed all of those issues. Poor quarterback play, an inability to consistently run the ball, dominated in the trenches, an inability to create pressure or stop the run, miscommunications, receivers running wide open and bone-headed penalties. Tennessee simply isn’t a well-coached team. In fact, the Vols are a very poorly-coached team.