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Texas A&M Football

Ags focused on beating the Vols as A&M hopes to climb in the rankings

December 18, 2020
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Millions of visitors go to the Smoky Mountains each year to enjoy climbing.

Texas A&M heads that way on Saturday with hopes to do some climbing, too.

The No. 5 Aggies (7-1) are hopeful that a victory over Tennessee (3-6) and some help from Northwestern or Notre Dame will allow them to climb at least one spot in the national rankings and land in the College Football Playoff.

That’s the end game, anyway.

Lindsay Caudle, TexAgs
The Aggies and Volunteers have only met once as members of the SEC back in 2016, which A&M won in overtime.

The Aggies insist playoff possibilities have not been discussed yet.

Instead, they say their goal to reach peak performance in their 11 a.m. Southeastern Conference clash with the Volunteers.

When asked about the Aggies’ mindset with so much possible, star sophomore defensive end DeMarvin Leal offered a terse answer.

“To finish,” he said. “To keep doing what we’ve been doing. To keep pushing. To keep climbing. To keep going over those stepping stones. Just figure out who we want to be and how great we want to be.”

It seems the Aggies have already developed an identity. They’re a run-oriented offense with explosive running backs and a powerful offensive line that wears down opponents.

Running back Isaiah Spiller has exceeded 100 rushing yards in each of the last three games. He has accumulated 897 yards, has his sights set on the 1,000-yard mark and will likely end the regular season with the highest rushing yards per game average in the SEC.

Defensively, Leal, defensive tackle Bobby Brown, linebacker Buddy Johnson and Co. have led a miserly unit that surrenders rushing yards as begrudgingly as a Doberman would surrender a pork chop.

The Aggies are ranked second in the SEC and ninth in the nation in run defense.

However, they face a stern challenge. Tennessee has a sound rushing attack featuring the tandem of Eric Gray and Ty Chandler running behind a solid offensive line that features All-American guard Trey Smith.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
Gray is one of the top rushing threats in the SEC.

Gray has rushed for 772 yards. Chandler has picked up 425.

“Gray is a really good player. Even when you’ve got him hemmed in, he’s still making yards, running through people, breaking tackles, making people miss,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Their line is very big. It’s physical. They’ve got a good group in there. We’re going to have to be physical and hold the point and fit things right.”

The Vols are especially dependent on their running game because true freshman Harrison Bailey has taken over at quarterback.

Though he’s only passed for 493 yards and three touchdowns, Bailey had an impressive showing with 207 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-17 victory over Vanderbilt last week.

Fisher expects Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt — a former defensive coordinator under Fisher at Florida State — will have the Volunteers eager to pull off an upset.

“Their confidence is definitely going to be up,” Fisher said. “They’re going to play hard. Jeremy is a heck of a coach. He’s going to have his guys ready to play. We’re going to need to be ready to play on our side. It’s going to be a heck of a football game.”

Unless, of course, A&M avoids turnovers and limits penalties. The Aggies have won five straight games by double-figure margins. They figure to extend that streak if they play well.

Spiller said the Aggies plan isn’t complicated.

“Just be consistent like we have been all season,” he said. “I feel like we’ll be fine."

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Ags focused on beating the Vols as A&M hopes to climb in the rankings

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