It's Football Time in Tennessee: Vols vs. Texas A&M Aggies Preview (10/14/23)

Recently: Tennessee (#19/17, 4-1, 1-1) spent the week at Disneyland after winning the Super Bowl enjoyed a much-needed bye week after the 41-20 Dark Mode takedown of South Carolina. Recap of the top plays from that game here: 


Meanwhile, Texas A&M (NR, 4-2, 2-1) fell 26-20 against Alabama in College Station last weekend. A&M saw the Tide score 16 straight to open the second half, erasing a 17-10 halftime advantage for the Aggies. 

Previously on Vols vs. Aggies: UT lost an uninspired 34-13 contest at home against the Aggies in 2020. Despite TAMU being a SEC member school for over a decade now, this will be just the fifth-ever meeting between the schools and the second in Knoxville. The first two contests between the schools were bowl games (1957 Gator, 2004 Cotton), both wins for Tennessee. The most memorable matchup for the living fan is likely the 2016 double-overtime barnburner at Kyle Field that UT lost 38-45.

Five Factor Preview: 

UT Offense vs. TAMU Defense

Jumping off the page to me is that 28% havoc rate for the Aggie defense. The Vols' offensive line looked like a different unit with Cooper Mays back for the South Carolina game, but this Aggie defense will be a real test for the UT front on Saturday. TAMU junior LB Edgerrin Cooper leads the SEC and is 2nd nationally with 12 tackles for loss and is 6th nationally with 6 sacks this season--all 6 coming in SEC games. Sophomore DL and Powell High School graduate Walter Nolan is 4th in the SEC with 7.5 TFLs and tied for 6th with 4 sacks, with at least one sack in each SEC game. The Aggies lead the nation in TFLs (57) and sacks (26) and are 16th nationally (2nd in SEC) with 26 pass break-ups. Cry havoc, indeed. 

UT Defense vs. TAMU Offense

Short fields and scoring opportunities look to be key for the Aggies' offense. Tennessee has been stingy with the points per scoring opportunity--it will help if the Vols can keep TAMU for getting the field position they want, especially early. Under Jimbo Fisher, A&M is 33-6 when scoring first and 32-2 when leading after the first quarter. Tennessee will want to limit graduate WR Ainias Smith as much as possible. Smith is the only career 2000-yard receiver in SEC history to also have at least 250 career rushing, punt return, and kick return yards. Smith is also the active career leader in punt return yards, and is 2nd nationally with 20.2 yards per return this season. 

Aggie Offensive Concepts: 

According to, these are TAMU's most used concepts on offense: 

Of Texas A&M's five most often used concepts, all five are run plays (not pictured here: inside power read & inside zone, each about 5% of the offense). However, of the top five concepts by yards gained, three of the five are pass concepts. Against Alabama last week, their Flood passes had a 67% success rate and gained 14 yards/play. Here's an example: 

And again with the WRs isolated: 

Notice how the backside WRs "flood" the playside, and how the playside WR makes a deep crossing pattern with the slot receiver. That's the action they're looking for here. Really hard for the slot defender to stay on the deep flood action, and his help is being taken away by the deep cross. It's fairly slow-developing though, so pressure will be key to stopping this look. 

A&M's top run play has been Outside Zone. All OLs step to the playside and pick up a defender, while the RB looks for a lane to run in. Example: 

Simple. Effective. Gap discipline and not over-pursuing are your friends on defense here. 

Prediction: From a purely football standpoint, this will be the biggest test Tennessee has faced this season. Obviously the environment in Florida was tough and too much for UT to overcome. But the Gators aren't a patch on this A&M team in terms of talent and execution. Cooper Mays being back will make the O-Line better--will it make them better enough to slow A&M's pass rush? Tennessee has allowed just six sacks this year, second fewest in the SEC. That's just one of many questions this game poses. Who steps up to fill Bru McCoy's shoes on offense? How does the three-headed monster of Jabari Small, Jaylen Wright, and Dylan Sampson in UT's backfield share the load this week? Can UT, who rushes for 231 yards/game, become the first team this season to gain over 100 yards rushing and 100 yards passing on the Aggies? (Alabama managed just 23 yards on the ground a week ago.) 

And that's just the Vols' offense. For all the impressive havoc numbers A&M has posted, it's Tennessee that leads the SEC in sacks/game with 4.4, while just barely trailing the Aggies in TFLs per game with 9.4. Who wins the havoc battle? Who wins field position? Both factors will go a long way in deciding the winner. 

As will home field. With Checker Neyland in effect and the final home game until November, there should be a rowdy crowd on hand Saturday. UT is favored by 3, which I assume builds in the 3 points Vegas typically gives home teams. That would mean these two teams would be even on a neutral field. Which seems about right. But I also believe that 3 points is low when you're talking about home field in this conference. I don't have data to back this up, but SEC home field advantage seems to be worth at least a touchdown in big games. Because of that, I'll pick Tennessee to win. This is not fandom talking, I had to really look at how these teams mirror each other in a lot of ways and let home field be the deciding factor. If this game was in College Station, I'd take the Aggies. But as long as the Vols play competent football, it's Neyland Stadium's game to win Saturday. 

Extraneous: Robert Earl Keen, who holds an English degree from Texas A&M, is arguably the greatest singer-songwriter of the 20th century. Let me clarify that "singer-songwriter" is similar to "student-athlete" in that the primary descriptor comes second. Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Dolly Parton, Billy Joel--those are singers who also wrote songs. As for pure singer-songwriters, the top two are Bob Dylan and Robert Earl Keen, and for my taste, I'd rather have REK. 

Consider the brilliance it takes to balance the comedic stylings of songs like "Copenhagen" and "Merry Christmas from the Family" with the heartstring-tugging sentiment of "Feelin' Good Again" and "Mariano." The very fact that songs like "Gringo Honeymoon" and "Corpus Christi Bay" can make you feel nostalgia for a time and place you never even lived in is evidence of genius at work. 

I guess what I'm saying is, how do you watch four years of this:

And still have the brain capacity to write "The Front Porch Song"? I guess genius thrives in adverse conditions. 


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