KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee faces its toughest challenge of the season at Texas A&M on Saturday in a matchup of top 10 teams.
Richard Croome has been around the Aggies’ program for 10 years, and he has covered Texas A&M football since before Kevin Sumlin took over as head coach in 2012.
Here are five questions on Texas A&M with Croome:
Q: What makes this Texas A&M 5-0 start different than the past two seasons, when it also started 5-0?
RC: “It’s more legit this time because it has included UCLA. Everyone got excited the last two years because of opening game wins — South Carolina was ranked and Arizona State was ranked — but those teams ended up being nothing. This year they beat UCLA, who is better than those two teams, and they beat Auburn at Auburn and beat Arkansas more convincingly than they did the last two years. I think this Arkansas team is better than the Arkansas of past few years, so the wins are more legit. Two reasons they can keep it going, and one is that all these guys have been through it, being 5-0 and then losing. And when you have a good defense, you’ll be in every ball game. This defense is a legit defense.”
Q: What has the addition of Trevor Knight done for this offense?
RC: “For this offense, two things: One, he is perfect for the kind of offense (Noel) Mazzone likes to run. He’s a quarterback that gives you options with each play. They run a play, 85 percent of the time, there are two or three options, it’s like the triple option except it’s a spread. Knight is capable of doing that: running, throwing or faking throwing and then running. It’s almost like he’ll run the ball thinking he’s going to pass, that doesn’t happen, and next thing you know he’s starting to run and it looks like he won’t get much and he flips to Christian Kirk. Also, he’s a faster runner than people think he is. He gained everyone’s respect immediately. He worked hard knowing he’d be the leader if he was the quarterback.”
Q: Share some perspective as to what John Chavis has meant to Texas A&M football?
RC: “Chavis has brought a lot to Texas A&M, because they like to bring the ‘Wrecking Crew’ (defensive nickname) back up any time their defense does anything. He has made them that again. In the past, when they’ve had some good defensive showings, everyone brings up the Wrecking Crew but it hasn’t been consistent. I think they want to have their own identity, and they haven’t made up their own identity. They’re just happy being a damn good defense. The fans would like to call them that, but I think the fans are hesitant and maybe want to wait a few more games. They’ve jumped on the Wrecking Crew name before it didn’t happen. This is a very good defense.”
Q: What does Tennessee have to do pull the upset, as a 6 1/2-point underdog?
RC: “From what I’ve seen of Tennessee, first they have to play a full game. I don’t think you can get away with giving A&M a lead like that and thinking they can come back. I go back to the defense, and they are pretty good. UCLA got a couple touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but one was a drive, and the other was essentially a Hail Mary where a safety fell. I think they have to play four quarters. They can’t count on coming back. If they get behind like they did against Florida (21-3), I don’t think they can come back. If they are two touchdowns down that would be the very most they could come back from at any point in the game. Josh Dobbs will also have to play a great game. If (Texas A&M defensive end) Myles Garrett plays, and we’re still not sure about that — I would think he would — but if he plays, Dobbs will have to be at his best, because those two ends will be in his face.”
Q: What’s the mood like around Texas A&M for this game?
RC: “People are excited about ESPN College GameDay coming in, but you still almost get the feeling it’s like, ‘Yeah, they’ve been 5-0 the last two years, and let’s get over the 5-0 before we bow our chest out.’ It hasn’t been as pumped up as I thought it would be, and I think it’s because of the last two years. Two years ago when Texas A&M beat South Carolina badly, A&M people were already talking about being in the College Football Playoff. It’s almost made the fan base more cautious than the team and players themselves.”