KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s offensive line has shown signs of real improvement in recent weeks, but the unit will face its stiffest test to date in College Station on Saturday afternoon.
The No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies tout one of the fiercest defensive lines in the country, headlined by bookend pass rushers Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.
The duo has combined for 13.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks this season.
“Their front-seven is phenomenal,” Vols coach Butch Jones said.
“When you look at it, there’s first-round draft picks across the board. They’re very deep. … They can rotate a player in and there’s no drop-off no matter who is in the game. They’re very disruptive.”
Under the direction of John ‘Chief’ Chavis — a former Tennessee nose tackle and longtime defensive coordinator under Phillip Fulmer — the Aggies are allowing just 4.9 yards per play — good for No. 26 nationally. They rank No. 12 in the country in scoring defense (15.4 points per game) and second in the SEC in takeaways (10) and sacks (16).
Garrett, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound freak, is the headliner and could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Hall, as well as a trio of defensive tackles, make Texas A&M’s entire front-four difficult to scheme against.
“As the rankings show, all the disruptions they’ve had. All the sacks and tackles for loss, this is a great defense and it starts up front with their front-four,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said.
“It’s by far the best defense we’ve faced.”
Garrett missed the Aggies’ 24-13 win at South Carolina with a lower leg injury, but even if the junior isn’t 100 percent, he’s a load to handle up front.
“Oh boy, relentless approach,” said Jones when asked about blocking the All-American defensive end.
“Explosiveness. The size, the speed, the stature. The way he plays the game. His get-off. The way he uses his hands. Just a very, very dynamic football player.”
For what it’s worth, Tennessee left tackle Brett Kendrick believes the Volunteers are fully prepared to handle Garrett, Hall or whoever, as they have to block All-American Derek Barnett in practice everyday.
While Garrett has received more national acclaim, Barnett — who has single-handily jumpstarted Tennessee’s second half comebacks the last two weeks — has actually outproduced the fellow pass rusher during their ballyhooed careers.
Presented without comment. Sacks/TFLs in SEC games the last 3 seasons:
Derek Barnett: 21 sacks, 27 TFLs
Myles Garrett: 11 sacks, 18 TFLs.
— Jesse Re Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) October 5, 2016
“It’s going to be fun. You always want to go against the best,” Kendrick said.
“I’m excited for it. We’ve got a pretty good one here in our backyard, too. … I blocked Derek Barnett all training camp, so I know what it’s like to go against the best.
“Obviously, it’s tough facing two great rushers like that, but the way I see it, we have two great rushers on our side, too, that me and Chance have had to go against. It’s going to be difficult, but I think we’re ready for it.”