No. 5 Texas A&M is one spot away from potentially making the playoffs, with the top four teams being selected by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee on Sunday, Dec. 20.
However, if the Aggies want to make it to the playoffs, they have to take on four more teams. The first of the four teams is Tennessee, which A&M is set to face off against in Knoxville on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 2:30 p.m. A big part of the A&M offense this year has been the strength in both its running and passing game, which will need to continue for more success.
A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said the team believes in an equilibrium.
“The physicality of the runners, the ability that we can run the quarterback, our passing game, balance of being able to play action or create one-on-ones and our guys’ routes,” Fisher said. “We work on it, and I think they believe in it.”
If the Volunteers, who have a 2-4 record, want to hold up against the 5-1 Texas A&M, the Tennessee defense will have to find a way to stop the dual threat of A&M’s passing and rushing game.
In its last game against Arkansas, Tennessee allowed the Razorbacks to put up 198 rushing yards and 215 passing yards. This secured the Volunteers’ loss, 24-13.
The A&M offense has shown its balance through its strengths in both passing and rushing. The Aggies currently lead the SEC in rushing yards with 1,135. Sophomore running back Isaiah Spiller leads A&M on the ground with 643 yards and five touchdowns.
The balance between running and receiving the ball can be seen through A&M sophomore running back Ainias Smith. While Smith is a running back he has also been heavily utilized as a receiver during the 2020 football season.
Smith has the most receiving touchdowns on the team, with five. He also has 187 yards rushing with two rushing touchdowns in addition to 312 receiving yards.
Senior quarterback Kellen Mond has led the offense in its success. Aside from shattering many records, including becoming the leader for A&M in passing touchdowns and passing yards, the signal caller has put up 1,468 passing yards and thrown for 16 touchdowns on the season.
A key factor to Mond’s success this year has been his ability to spread the ball around. So far this season, the signal caller has thrown to 11 different receivers, with seven of these 11 recording at least one touchdown reception.
Fisher said A&M’s receiving corps is full of talent.
“I think they’re all go-to guys,” Fisher said. “We’re going to them in the right coverages and the right matchups. Whether it's the backs, the tight ends, the receivers, we’re going to them in the matchup we want and which we think we can win at. Everyone says you have to throw it to one guy, well that’s not always true. You mix and match guys.”
A highlight of the Tennessee defense is the aggressiveness it shows to opposing quarterbacks. The Volunteers have sacked quarterbacks a total of 14 times so far this season.
So far this season, A&M’s offensive line has allowed just two sacks, with both of those coming in the season opener against Vanderbilt. However, the Maroon Goons face a challenge this weekend against Tennessee’s senior linebacker Deandre Johnson, who leads the Volunteers in sacks with 4.5.
However, the Tennessee defense has only put up two interceptions and one touchdown. Its defense is nationally ranked No. 63 overall.
Sophomore linebacker Henry To’o To’o has been a key defender for the Volunteers as a leader on the statsheet. To’o has 40 total tackles, one sack, one interception and the only touchdown of the Tennessee defense.
Fisher said A&M’s strength in both passing and running presents two problems to opposing teams.
“[The balance between the running and passing game] I think is huge,” Fisher said. “When people have to worry about two different things, and if you have one problem or two problems, cause you can shut one down and throw it [to] all personnel. It’s a huge part of what we do.”