KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s championship dreams and aspirations stand before it, but return road to the SEC title game in Atlanta will travel through College Station, Texas, this week.
The No. 9-ranked Volunteers (5-0, 2-0 SEC) play the No. 8-ranked Aggies (5-0, 3-0) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Kyle Field.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said it will represent his team’s biggest challenge to date. The players have said they embrace the opportunity to play in a nationally televised game on CBS with ESPN College GameDay present once more.
Here are five keys to the game for the Volunteerss against Texas A&M on Saturday:
1. Protect Josh Dobbs
Former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis, now at Texax A&M, made it clear Saturday’s game is strictly business. No one needs to make more out of the Aggies going after Dobbs than there is. Chavis’ defenses punish quarterbacks, and they make running quarterbacks pay the price for turning the ball upfield. It’s possible the Vols can afford to lose this game, but they certainly cannot afford to lose Dobbs.
2. Win special teams
Texas A&M is known for its 12th man tradition, and the Aggies have some good special teams units. Jones pointed out that special teams played a big role in the Vols’ win at Georgia, and they will be important again. Tennessee needs every yard, foot and inch it can get at Kyle Field.
3. Fast start
Let’s all say it together: “Tennessee needs to get off to a fast start this week.” The Vols have been outscored 41-10 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Kevin Sumlin-coached Texas A&M teams have scored first in 41 of 53 games, and the Aggies are 33-8 in those games.
4. Disruptive defense
The Vols defense has not been as dominant stopping the run as Bob Shoop would like. Consequently, it has not been in position to get after quarterbacks in third-and-long situations. Tennessee needs to be stubborn against the run and make the Aggies one dimensional if they are to disrupt Trevor Knight.
5. Establish the run
Tennessee’s offense has not been in sync all season. Often it has relied on Dobbs to make plays with his legs after the original play call breaks down. The Vols’ offensive line has become incrementally better, but this is the game to put things together. Jalen Hurd ranks 142nd in the nation in yards per carry (4.03), the lowest among backs with 100 carries or more this season. Jones said Hurd was “full-go” for practice this week after missing some snaps in the Georgia game.