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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M seeks first true road win in two years versus Tennessee

Sophomore+DB+Bryce+Anderson+%281%29+celebrates+after+a+fumble+recovery+during+Texas+A%26amp%3BMs+football+game+against+Alabama+at+Kyle+Field+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+7%2C+2023.+%28Chris+Swann%2FThe+Battalion%29
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Sophomore DB Bryce Anderson (1) celebrates after a fumble recovery during Texas A&M’s football game against Alabama at Kyle Field on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Chris Swann/The Battalion)

After a hectic week of hype, hope and heartbreak, Texas A&M football has no time to wait for the smoke to settle. In fact, there ain’t no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top. There ain’t even any telephone bills.
After a disappointing 26-20 loss to Alabama in which many Aggie fans felt like they had the chance to win, the Maroon and White are now tasked with going on the road to Neyland Stadium to take on No. 19 Tennessee.
One of the most glaring issues for A&M in its last game was the struggles on the offensive line. In the second half, the Aggies’ offense could not generate any rhythm, as sophomore quarterback Max Johnson had seemingly no time to settle down and throw. In the game, the Crimson Tide’s defense had five sacks and seven QB hurries.
To say this unit has to be better for A&M to have success going forward seems like a no-doubter, but it won’t get much easier for the O-line. In fact, it’s about to get much, much harder.
The Volunteers are the country’s best in total team sacks, coming in with 22 sacks in just five games. Sophomore defensive lineman James Pearce Jr. is tied for fifth in the nation in sacks per game, and senior DL Tyler Baron is not far behind, tied for 21st. Offensively, the Maroon and White rank a middling 64th in sacks allowed.
Luckily for the Aggies, they’re not far behind Tennessee defensively. It’s not often you have the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a statistic square off against one another, but the Maroon and White follow right behind the Volunteers in team sacks.
Junior linebacker Edgerrin Cooper is also tied for fifth in the country in sacks per game, with seven Aggies having over one sack this season. Expect to see QBs for both teams sitting on the ground this game. A lot.
Other than the offensive line, the secondary was brutally exposed against the Tide. Sophomore QB Jalen Milroe torched the Aggies, throwing for 321 yards and three touchdowns. There may be some relief for A&M, however, as the Volunteers’ passing offense is a shell of what it was last year.
“Sometimes, we’ve got to get the ball out,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It’s a combination. We had some protection [issues], but we had some of those balls that should have been out and had places to go with it and we’ve got to get rid of it.”
After finishing the season ninth in passing yards last season, Tennessee’s passing offense comes into the weekend 69th in the country. Senior QB Joe Milton commands the Volunteers’ offense, but has not matched the production of his predecessor, Hendon Hooker. Milton ranks 14th in the SEC in yards per attempt, and the offense as a whole is 74th in the country in pass plays over 30 yards, a category it was first in last year.
This is not to say there’s nothing the Volunteers do well offensively, as they have pivoted from the air to the ground this year. Tennessee ranks seventh in college football in rushing offense, averaging 230 yards per game. Junior RB Jaylen Wright is 11th in the country in rushing yards per carry and tied for 29th in rushing yards per game, while sophomore RB Dylan Sampson is tied for 24th in rushing touchdowns.
“They’re a very good team,” Fisher said. “They’ve got a three-back system, [Wright, senior Jabari Small and Sampson], the running backs can all have juice. They’re strong. You think of them as fast, but they’re 210-15 pounds. Those guys are all really good players up there.”
Luckily for the Aggies, their strongest defensive unit has made their living stopping the run. The Maroon and White come in eighth in rushing defense after holding the Crimson Tide to just 23 yards on the ground last week.
“[A&M] is good at stopping the run, they’re good at getting after the QB too,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “First of all, they’ve got really good skill. When I say that, I’m talking about their big skill up front too. They’re physical, they’re dynamic, they’re thick … you’ve got to do a great job in communication, you’ve got to win some one-on-ones when you’re in a one-on-one. Your double team’s got to be good enough to change the way the line of scrimmage looks.”
For the Aggies, a win here would mark the first time A&M has won a true road game since beating Missouri in 2021. It would also be the first time Tennessee has lost a home game since playing Georgia that same year. But, it will be a rocky road for the Maroon and White to reach that summit.

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