The Tennessee Volunteers have some renewed confidence along with a bit of inspiration as they wrap up the regular season hosting fifth-ranked Texas A&M.
Forget that the Volunteers (3-6) snapped a six-game skid by beating winless Vanderbilt last weekend. Watching LSU upset Florida was a reminder for the Vols that anything can happen on any given Saturday in the Southeastern Conference.
“Anything can change,” Tennessee senior guard Trey Smith said, pointing to LSU's surprise win. “I know A&M knows that as well. They’ll be coming in and playing with their best ‘A’ game to put on a great performance.”
While Tennessee routed Vanderbilt 42-17 last week, the Aggies (7-1, No. 5 CFP) stayed home because of Ole Miss' COVID-19 issues. That leaves Texas A&M with only Saturday's game to make a final impression trying to move up and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“The goal for the end of the season is to finish, to keep doing what we have been doing, to keep pushing, to keep climbing and going over those steppingstones,” Texas A&M defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal said. “We have to figure out who we want to be and how great we want to be.”
The Aggies won the last game in double overtime in 2016 in College Station when Butch Jones was Tennessee’s coach. That was their first win in three games between these teams.
This will be Texas A&M's first trip to Knoxville, and the Aggies won't get the full experience with capacity limited to 25% of capacity at Neyland Stadium. Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher had Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt as his defensive coordinator when Florida State won its last national title.
“Their confidence is going to be up," Fisher said. “It’s the last one of the year. They are going to play hard to finish up their season.”
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond is already the school’s all-time leader in yards passing (9,148), passing touchdowns (70), completions (759), attempts (1,300) and total offense (10,661). On Saturday the senior could add another milestone to his already sparkling resume.
Along with his 70 touchdown passes, Mond has 20 rushing touchdowns in his career. He needs four touchdowns Saturday to pass 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel for most in school history.
Tennessee has started freshman Harrison Bailey the past two games, though sophomore J.T. Shrout also has gotten plenty of playing time. Both threw two TDs apiece in the win at Vanderbilt. Pruitt said both will play again against the Aggies, giving the Vols a chance to know what they have for the future.
Isaiah Spiller leads the Aggies and ranks third in the SEC with 897 yards rushing. He’s part of a rushing attack that ranks second in the SEC by averaging 201.25 yards a game. Spiller loves Fisher’s mentality of trying to wear teams down with the running game.
“We are all-around a good team but when our run game is going, we are pretty hard to stop," Spiller said.
Spiller has six 100-yard rushing games this season and needs 157 yards rushing to reach 2,000 in his career.
NOT COMING BACK
Smith won't be among the seniors coming back to Tennessee. The talented left guard said he believes he's nullified any issues with his medical history this season by playing a full season without any injuries or issues.
“My medical situation is absolutely perfect and clear,” Smith said. "I think I’ve improved my stock and have taken those ‘what ifs’ off the table even more with NFL teams in the future.”
Texas A&M’s veteran offensive line, been dubbed the Maroon Goons, ranks among the best in the country. The Aggies lead the SEC and rank fifth in the nation by allowing just 0.5 sacks a game after giving up just four sacks this season.
Senior right tackle Carson Green leads the group and will make his 38th straight start on Saturday, which is the longest on the team. Sophomore left guard Kenyon Green is A&M’s only lineman who is not a senior. He’s enjoyed seeing the improvement of the group since the beginning of the season.
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed to this report.
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