Tennessee Offense vs. Defense for Texas A&M Football
I think something that will surprise many Texas A&M football fans coming into this game is just how different this Tennessee offense looks than what they are likely picturing. The Vols made a name for themselves last year with their ability to throw all over any and every team not named Georgia, including in an exciting game against a Bryce Young-led Bama team in Neyland Stadium that was one of the highlights of the season. That aerial acumen has somewhat diminished as Milton has taken the reins this season; only once so far this year have the Volunteers exceeded an opponent’s average yards per attempt allowed, and that was in the one game they’ve lost so far.
It’s hard to know exactly why this is the case; after all, Milton did a fine job at the helm in the last two-and-a-half games of the 2022 season after Hendon Hooker was lost for the season against South Carolina. Losing Jalin Hyatt to the draft is doubtless a big reason, and now with top receiver Bru McCoy out for the year (after sustaining an injury in this year’s game against South Carolina), the Vols have quickly found themselves without many proven receivers on their squad. Squirrel White, as tough to tackle as his namesake, will be the biggest threat to the Aggie defensive backs barring a no-name receiver careering against the troubled secondary for Texas A&M football, which we cannot definitively rule out as a possibility.
It seems the key strength-on-strength matchup when the Vols have the ball will be between the Aggie run defense and the Volunteer ground game. The Vols are tied for third in the conference in rushing success rate, are second in the conference in rushing explosiveness, and are first in the conference—as well as second in the nation!—on a pure yards per carry basis. It should be said, though, that The one game that they struggled to run the ball also happened to be the game that they lost to Florida. The Aggies have struggled to stop the run out of spread formations in the past (last year’s loss to Ole Miss being a painful and recent example), but have thus far showcased a greatly improved rushing defense in the 2023 season. If Texas A&M football can limit the Vols on the ground, they will have a shot.
The other strength-on-strength here is the Vols’ OL vs. the Aggie pass rush. They’ve done an admirable job at keeping Milton clean for the most part this year, but they have yet to face anything resembling what the Aggies will be bringing to town. Milton deals with pressure very poorly, so if Texas A&M football can get to him in the same way they did KJ Jefferson, for example, and get him rattled early, it will be a long day for Big Orange when they drop back to pass.
Tennessee does a great job getting ahead of the chains on first and second down, doubtless thanks to their excellent ground game, but are strangely middle-of-the-road when it comes to converting in late down situations (63rd in the nation). This will provide the Aggies—who rank sixth in the nation in third down conversion percentage allowed—an opportunity in the game. Similarly, Tennessee has struggled to create points off of opportunities and red zone possessions, and the Aggies have excelled in stopping opposing offenses from both getting those opportunities and converting them when they do occur.