Here we go: The Texas A&M Aggies do need help, but if they get it and they beat the Tennessee Volunteers, they could be headed for the College Football Playoff and the Rose Bowl (while Alabama goes to the Sugar Bowl).
By Matt Zemek
If Northwestern beats Ohio State or Notre Dame beats Clemson, and the Aggies take care of business in Knoxville, they will move into that No. 4 playoff spot ahead of Cincinnati and others. Obviously, the Aggies can’t control what happens in the games they aren’t playing. The whole focus should be on hammering the Vols and making a loud statement to the playoff committee in an early-afternoon game, so that if anything weird happens later in the day, A&M will stand to benefit.
1 – A secondary feast
The A&M secondary got torched by Alabama and Florida early in the season, but since there aren’t many other quality offenses in the SEC, the Aggies have been able to regularly control games on defense. Coordinator Mike Elko has been able to get his secondary to smother opponents’ passing games the past two months, and with Tennessee next in line, there’s no good reason for the Aggie secondary to fail to maintain its high standard of play.
When A&M struggled against Auburn, a foremost problem was allowing AU quarterback Bo Nix to break tackles and scramble for yards on the ground. The Aggie secondary has not sprung very many leaks since Mac Jones and Kyle Trask both did their thing against Elko’s group. Tennessee, as everyone in the SEC knows, has struggled at quarterback in 2020, just as the Vols have swung and missed at the quarterback position in nearly every season since Phil Fulmer left. Tennessee has been utterly stymied by its inability to develop quarterbacks under Derek Dooley, Butch Jones, and now Jeremy Pruitt. It’s a spin-the-wheel-and-see-where-it-lands game of uncertainty for Tennessee. Texas A&M’s back line of defense should be able to dominate this game.
2 – Bring the hammer
Texas A&M’s offensive line was the difference against Auburn. The Aggies were able to run the ball in the second half whenever they really needed to. They were able to dictate the game and once again reduce the burden on quarterback Kellen Mond. This game will go smoothly if that offensive line is ready at the start. Punishing Tennessee’s front four and establishing unquestioned territorial superiority will set up the passing game and put the Vols completely at the mercy of Jimbo Fisher’s playbook. A flat start, however, and a lack of total clarity could potentially give Tennessee the sense that it can hang with the Aggies for 60 minutes. That’s how big upsets can occur.
3 – Block out the noise
Playoff or not, the Aggies just have to make their own statement. Don’t worry what the pundits are saying. Don’t read the newspaper clippings or follow social media. Go into Knoxville, take care of business, and let the chips fall where they may. Great programs establish a high standard and leave the judgments and appraisals to others. This is a chance for A&M to show that it can shove aside pressure and take ownership of big moments.