Saturday’s top 10 matchup between Tennessee and Texas A&M is expected to be one of the best games of Week 6. Both teams enter with 5-0 records and look to prove their legitimacy as contenders in the SEC.
The Vols are coming off a 34-31 win over Georgia that saw quarterback Josh Dobbs connect with wide receiver Jauan Jennings on a game winning 43-yard Hail Mary. The Aggies defeated South Carolina in a surprisingly close 24-13 victory.
The obvious storyline for Saturday’s game is that one team will remain unbeaten, while the other will be handed its first loss. But it’s remarkable how similar both programs are heading into their matchup.
Tennessee and A&M have both been outstanding in the second half of all their games this season. The Vols have outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 111-38 after the second quarter. The Aggies have a margin of 108-34 in the second half and overtime.
Both teams also feature two of the SEC’s best pass-rushers. Tennessee’s Derek Barnett recorded a school freshman record 10 sacks in 2014. That would have also been a conference freshman record had it not been for Aggies DE Myles Garrett’s 11.5 sacks that same year.
Since then, fans and media members have debated which of the two potential first-round NFL Draft picks is the best in the SEC. Barnett currently leads with 4.0 sacks to Garrett’s 3.0 in 2016, although the Aggies’ star has been slowed by injuries.
That’s also been a common theme for both teams. The Vols and Aggies have managed to stay perfect despite dealing with injuries to key players. Last week, Garrett, wide receivers Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil and offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor missed the South Carolina game.
Tennessee inside linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. has been out since Week 2, while senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton have dealt with injuries since Week 3. Reeves-Maybin was limited to a few plays against Florida in Week 4 while Sutton has missed the last two games.
Running back Jalen Hurd is also dealing with what head coach Butch Jones called a “lower back extremity,” though some have argued his absence in the fourth quarter of last week’s game was based more on a performance issue. Regardless, Hurd is reportedly not expected to play in Saturday’s game, according to WBIR in Knoxville.
Each team also has a veteran dual-threat quarterback. Dobbs has always excelled as one of the SEC’s best running QBs but has displayed his passing ability in recent weeks, including the now-historic Hail Mary pass. Former Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight has also enjoyed a successful redemption campaign in 2016 with 1,261 passing yards, which ranks third among SEC passers.
But perhaps the most common theme between the two programs is how important Saturday’s game is to their national perception.
Despite its 5-0 record, Tennessee has been labeled as being more “lucky” than good after winning close games. Some are hesitant to buy into the Vols’ hype after being stuck in rebuilding mode for several years.
Coincidentally, there is skepticism of the Aggies’ legitimacy as well. A&M has started 5-0 in each of the past two seasons, but eventually finished with identical 8-5 records. That’s why, despite the strong start, some are still doubting head coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies.
Yet even with some skepticism, many have ranked A&M or Tennessee behind Alabama as the SEC’s best team.
A victory on Saturday would solidify that spot for one of the teams, especially with both scheduled to face the Tide during the next two weeks.
Source: Saturday Down South