KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Coach Butch Jones has said Texas A&M presents the greatest challenge Tennessee has faced this season, and a look at the position matchups shows why.
The No. 9-ranked Vols (5-0, 2-0 SEC) will be looking to win their 11th straight game when they take on the No. 8-ranked Aggies (5-0, 3-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.
Here’s a look at how the teams compare at each of the positions:
Texas A&M: Trevor Knight’s passing statistics aren’t staggering — he’s completing only 54.1 percent of his passes with 7 TDs and 3 interceptions — but he has also rushed for 392 yards and 6 TDs, making him the most dangerous dual-threat QB the Vols have faced to date.
Tennessee: Josh Dobbs isn’t a statistical wonder passing the ball either — 57.9-percent completion rate. And while Dobbs has rushed for fewer yards than Knight (267, 4.1 per carry), the Vols QB has come up with some big plays in timely moments.
Texas A&M: Trayveon Williams has broken off some long runs, including an 89-yarder, so he has an eye-popping 9 yards-per-carry average. Williams is 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds with speed — UT fans might compare him to former Vol Travis Stephens. Keith Ford started the season as the Aggies’ top rusher, but he had just one carry for 3 yards against South Carolina last week.
Tennessee: The Vols’ tailback situation is that Jalen Hurd won’t play, so Alvin Kamara is likely to get the start. Kamara has averaged more yards per carry (4.3 to 4.0) than Hurd ths season. Sophomore John Kelly should see his first significant action.
Edge: Texas A&M
RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
Texas A&M: Christian Kirk is one of the best, leading the team with 33 catches and finding ways to get open against most every opponent. Tough to tackle, Kirk has a way of making the first defender miss after the catch, too. Josh Reynolds is the speedster, a home-run threat averaging 20 yards per catch this season. Ricky Seals-Jones is a 6-foot-5, 240-pound target with 10 catches for 175 yards, but he’s questionable for the game.
Tennessee: Josh Malone and Jauan Jennings have gotten off to great starts, Malone with 15 catches for 310 yards and 5 touchdowns, and now Jennings with his winning catches against Florida and Georgia. Sophomore Preston Williams re-emerged last week, but the Vols will need more out of him against the Aggies.
Texas A&M: Senior Avery Gennesy is the Aggies’ best offensive lineman. The former junior college transfer made the most of his redshirt and developed into a stopper. Center Erik McCoy almost looks too big at his position (6-4, 311), but the bigger issue is he has issues being consistent with the snap. Sophomore Connor Lanfear brings some experience at right guard.
Tennessee: The Vols have started four different offensive line combinations, though no one expects a change this week even with Coleman Thomas healthy. Chance Hall has brought some power to the right tackle position, but Brett Kendrick had his struggles at Georgia on the left side.
Edge: Texas A&M
Texas A&M: Aggies standout end Myles Garrett is listed as questionable for this game, but most expect him to play, and he’s a handful. Likewise for senior Daeshon Hall, who defensive coordinator John Chavis said would be getting more attention if not for Garrett. UT is just as worried about tackles Hardreck Walker and Zaycoven Henderson.
Tennessee: Derek Barnett is playing as well as any defensive end in the country, and with 4 sacks in the last two games has been productive against quality competition. Corey Vereen is having a great season at the other end, as last week he had a key deflection on fourth down and a go-ahead TD on a fumble recovery in the end zone. Tackles Danny O’Brien and Kendal Vickers are bolstered by the great depth Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie bring.
Texas A&M: Senior Shaan Washington has been a playmaker, leading the team with 38 tackles. Middle linebacker Otara Alaka has been a solid presence, while sophomore Richard Moore is an emerging talent.
Tennessee: The Vols will be without their two starting linebackers, and it could hurt more against Texas A&M than any other opponent because of how the Aggies spread out defenses. Colton Jumper has kept UT properly aligned and been adequate, but that might not be enough this time. Cortez McDowell brings power, but not the speed of Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Edge: Texas A&M
Texas A&M: Senior safety Justin Evans is second on the team with 37 tackles, an aggressive defender who will get involved in the run game. Amani Watts, like Evans, is a future NFL player. The Aggies are solid at cornerback, but nickelback Donavon Wilson is the third-best defensive back in the group.
Tennessee: This is where the Vols miss shutdown corner Cam Sutton, as Malik Foreman was exposed on Georgia’s 47-yard TD pass in Athens, and Emmanuel Moseley has yet to show he can make plays on the ball. Tennessee safeties Todd Kelly Jr. and Micah Abernathy will need big games. Nickel Rashaan Gaulden is playing his best football.
Edge: Texas A&M
Texas A&M: The 12th Man tradition started off as a kickoff thing, but the Aggies have taken pride in all special teams. Punter Shane Tripucka has a 44.9 yards-per-punt average and kicker Daniel LaCamera is 11 of 14 on field goal attempts, including 3 of 4 beyond 40 yards (long of 48). Justin Evans averages 28.4 on kick returns and Nick Harvey has a 14.6 average on punt returns.
Tennessee: The Vols special teams came up big at Georgia, with Evan Berry’s return, Trevor Daniel’s great punt to the 5-yard line and Aaron Medley’s touchdown-saving tackle on a Bulldogs return. Alvin Kamara averages 8.9 on punt returns and Berry’s kick return average is 29.7.