The streak is over!
No, nobody in Knoxville is doing cartwheels over a 42-17 win against a ridiculously undermanned Vanderbilt team. Tennessee is putting pen to paper for recruits in the early signing period while preparing for Texas A&M’s visit to Knoxville this coming Saturday. However, it has to feel good for these players to have a six-game win streak finally off their backs.
After seeing a 3-5 LSU team that has been utterly dreadful at times this year shock 8-1 Florida in the Swamp on Saturday, there may be hope for this game for Tennessee fans as the fifth-ranked Aggies come to town. It will depend on a handful of key matchups, and some key individual performances.
Three things to watch:
Quarterback play: Again, we start with the most obvious. Tennessee got a nice sample size from both Harrison Bailey and JT Shrout on Saturday, and it left everybody scratching their heads, wondering how in the world Jarrett Guarantano was the best option for the first seven games. Bailey completed 14-of-18 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, while Shrout completed six-of-13 passes for 90 yards, two scores and an interception. These were exactly the type of performances Tennessee fans needed to see out of their two quarterbacks, and it will be interesting to see who carries the load against Texas A&M. Jeremy Pruitt already said this week both will play.
Mixing in young talent on offense: Ask and you shall receive, I guess? Last week I wrote about how Tennessee needed to show more from its younger players on the offensive side of the ball to show some semblance of hope for the future in an area that has been abysmal in 2020. Jeremy Pruitt and Jim Chaney obliged, as freshman wideout Jalin Hyatt caught all five of his targets for 81 yards and a touchdown. Freshman running backs Jabari Small and Dee Beckwith got in the mix as well, rushing for a combined 72 yards in garbage time. They got it done against a depleted Vanderbilt defense, now it’s time to find out what some of these exciting young prospects have against a College Football Playoff contender.
Tennessee’s defensive line vs Texas A&M’s offensive line: Remember all the hype surrounding Tennessee’s offensive line at the early onset of the season? That probably should have gone to A&M’s unit, who has dominated up front this season. The Aggies run the ball extremely well, as Isaiah Spiller is third in the SEC in rushing yards with 897. Tennessee’s defensive line must find a way to force Kellen Mond to beat them with his arm – which he is fully capable of doing. However, if Spiller has a big day and Mond is able to benefit from the respect Tennessee’s defense is forced to have for the run, it will be a long day for the Vols.
Tennessee wins if…
Jeremy Pruitt said this week that both JT Shrout and Harrison Bailey will play on Saturday. He said this last week as well and pulled Bailey after a seven-for-seven start against Vanderbilt. This cannot happen on Saturday. The Vols must ride the hot hand and try to manufacture some consistency on offense. The problem is that Texas A&M quietly boasts one of the league’s top defenses this season. The Aggies have allowed just over 100 rush yards per game this season, second only to Georgia.
It’s time for Jim Chaney to pull out all the stops in the regular season finale. If Tennessee’s offense can create some explosive plays and control the clock, it will give itself a chance. Defensively, the Vols must stop the run. A few things will have to bounce Tennessee’s way, like forcing a couple of turnovers on Kellen Mond – who has only thrown three interceptions this season.
Stranger things have happened, but a lot will have to go right for Tennessee to pull the surprise victory. If Texas A&M walks into Knoxville and routes the Vols with no problems, the cries for Jeremy Pruitt’s job will only grow louder.
No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies (-14) at Tennessee Volunteers
Kickoff: 11:00 am
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee (Neyland Stadium)
TV Broadcast Crew:
Radio: Vol Network, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Bob Kesling, Tim Priest, Kasey Funderburg, Brent Hubbs, John Wilkerson
Weather: High of 48, low of 37, partly cloudy