As with any game that Tennessee will be involved in this upcoming season, viewers’ eyes will be on the Vol offense versus whatever defense is unfortunate enough to encounter them. As it happens, the DC for Texas A&M football, DJ Durkin, will come into this game with one contest against a Heupel offense already under his belt.
In 2021, the Vols faced off against the Ole Miss Rebels in Neyland Stadium. This was the first visit to Neyland by Lane Kiffin since he unceremoniously dumped Big Orange for a chance at the Southern Cal job. As I’m sure many of you reading this remember, it got pretty wild.
Of interest here was Durkin’s particular prowess against the system that was already netting Tennessee huge offensive gains week in and week out. The mighty Vol offense only mustered 26 points—well below their season average of 39.3 points per game—and were held to 2.38 points per drive, 64% of their season average. They also failed to hit their season marks for YPA or YPC, only managing 94.38% and 90.61% respectively. Their success rate was a pedestrian 40%, meaning they struggled with consistency against Durkin’s scheme.
If Durkin can replicate that kind of success—especially with regard to scoring—against the Tennessee offense in 2023, you have to feel good about the Aggies’ chances.
On offense, the 2023 Texas A&M football squad will have to be executing on all cylinders. This is a prime spot for a bit of a letdown after facing Alabama at home the week prior. Of course, Tennessee will be staring down the barrel of a trip to Tuscaloosa themselves, so the charge of potential distraction could be levied at them just as easily.
If the Aggie pass rush can make Milton harried—a tough ask against a team and system that gets the ball out so quickly—that will be huge. Durkin’s specialty, as we saw last year, is a bend-don’t-break style, so the Vols chewing up yardage may well occur—it’s preventing the explosive play and tightening up in the red zone that will be the name of the game here. Against receivers like Bru McCoy and Squirrel White, however, the Aggie DBs will have their hands full.
This won’t be an easy ask for the Aggies. They’ll likely be all too ready for the bye week that awaits them after this contest. Still, though, if I had to pick today, I see an improved Aggie offense just barely able to keep ahead of a Vol attack that I foresee struggling against Durkin’s scheme. Give me the Aggies, but I think it’ll come down to the final possession. 31-27 is my guess.