After No. 5 Texas A&M’s third postponed game, the Aggies’ defense gears up to face Tennessee’s offense and its two-quarterback look.
Now two weeks separated from a below-par defensive effort against Auburn that resulted in a fourth quarter comeback 31-20 win, the Aggies face a Tennessee team that dominated Vanderbilt with 212 total rushing yards last week.
Tennessee’s rushing attack is led by sophomore running back Eric Gray who has 772 rushing yards and four total touchdowns this season. Gray is currently averaging 8.5 yards per carry while also being a solid receiving target for the Volunteers.
“Gray is a very good player,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Even when you got everybody, they got him. He's still making yards running through people, breaking tackles, making you miss, don't know. But their line is very big. It's physical. I mean, they've had some guys that were preseason all-American.”
A&M, which allows the second fewest rushing yards per game in the SEC (100.8), had its second-worst defense outing against the rush at Auburn, allowing 196 rushing yards.
Against Vanderbilt, Tennessee had its best passing game of the season. With sophomore J.T. Shrout and freshman Harrison Bailey sharing the reps behind center, the quarterback posted two touchdowns a piece and combined for 328 yards.
"Well, I really think you would rather play one, but we got two guys right now that I think are really competing hard in practice in J.T. [Shrout] and Harrison [Bailey],” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt told utsports.com. “We are giving them the same amount of reps and I've told both of them that we will look at these last three games and give them the same opportunity.”
After senior Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano struggled through six games this season, the Volunteers have stuck to the dual quarterback look for two games. Shrout has passed for 211 yards and three touchdowns on 64 percent completion in two games. Bailey has seen more reps this season, passing for 493 yards and three touchdowns, but really hit his stride against Vanderbilt.
“They've got one guy they do a running package with, but those guys [quarterbacks] are very similar,” Fisher said. “They have really good arm talent. They can still move and create plays with their feet. Some are very similar and then they have a couple they do a little special package with that is a little bit different.”
Tennessee has shown plenty of offensive versatility this season with 24 touchdowns split down the middle between the rush and the pass. In receiving, the Volunteers are led by senior wide receiver Josh Palmer who has 420 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
“The offense being a running or passing team, it doesn’t matter,” A&M sophomore defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal said. “We all just get together and we all are just going to be prepared for Saturday.”
Senior linebacker Buddy Johnson leads the Aggies in tackles with 36 solo tackles and 74 total tackles. Johnson also has three sacks, trailing behind junior defensive lineman Bobby Brown III, who leads A&M with 4.5 sacks. Brown has posted a sack or assisted sack in each of the last five games.
Leal said the defensive stalls against Auburn were to the Tigers’ credit and the Aggies have fixed the issues over the off week to prepare for Tennessee.
“I would say that Auburn’s offense did a fantastic job that whole entire game,” Leal said. “Going into the game we had a mindset that we shouldn’t exactly have had, but we fixed it. We got it corrected this past week, and we’re ready to go.”