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Texas A&M Football

Increased red-zone production required for A&M to end its road woes

October 13, 2023
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The Aggies have not left the state of Texas in a month, so they obviously aren’t road-weary.

However, they definitely should be road-wary.

Dating back to 2021, Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) has lost seven consecutive true road football games.

The Aggies aim to end that dubious streak when they travel to face No. 19 Tennessee (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Neyland Stadium, where the Volunteers have won 12 in a row.

“We have to make sure that we zone out our focus on the road,” A&M senior guard Layden Robinson said. "Zone out everything else and just play our game. Make sure that we have communication. That’s a really big part on the road, especially going into this atmosphere where the fans are going to be rowdy. They’re going to be excited, too.

“When we get in the red zone, they’re going to try to get even louder so that we can’t communicate. So the big thing about this week is just keeping our poise.”

Keeping poise is indeed vital. Keeping in check Tennessee’s running game maybe more so.

The Volunteers lead the Southeastern Conference and are ranked seventh in the nation in rushing offense.

Craig Bisacre/Texas A&M Athletics
A&M’s lone trip to Neyland Stadium came in 2020, a game the Aggies won, 34-13.

Behind a three-headed monster of Jaylen Wright (435 yards), Jabari Small (317 yards) and Dylan Sampson (248 yards), Tennessee averages 230 rushing yards per game.

The Vols have rushed for at least 209 yards in each of their four victories. However, the running game was limited to just 100 yards in a 29-16 loss to Florida.

A&M’s aims to be imitators of the Gators. The Aggies certainly have the ability to contain Tennessee’s running game.

A&M allows an average of just 84 rushing yards per game to lead the SEC and rank ninth in the nation. Opponents average just 84 rushing yards. A&M has surrendered no more than 144 rushing yards in a game this season. Four opponents were held to 91 rushing yards or less. The Aggies have given up just one rushing touchdown.

They've made incredible improvement from last season when A&M's run defense was among the weakest in the country.

“Every day, we make sure we come out to stop the run," defensive end Fadil Diggs said. “We play violent, physical. It’s just the chemistry. We know each other better on the D-line.”

A&M also leads the nation in quarterback sacks. The Aggies hope to put heavy pressure on Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton to disrupt the Vols passing game.

The Aggies may be more concerned with their own passing game, though.

Quarterback Max Johnson has been solid, though unspectacular. He has passed for 572 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions since taking over for injured Conner Weigman two-and-a-half games ago.

Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK
Smith accounted for 99 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in the 2020 victory on Rocky Top.

Johnson can look for big-play receivers Evan Stewart and Ainias Smith. But Tennessee has a senior-laden secondary that is ranked fourth in the SEC and has allowed just four touchdown passes.

A&M figures to move the football. The Aggies issue has been getting from the red zone to the end zone. They’ve scored touchdowns just 16 of 28 times in the red zone. That’s a mere 57 percent success rate.

A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said a 75 percent touchdown rate would be acceptable.

In a 26-20 loss to Alabama last week, A&M managed just one touchdown in four trips into the red zone.

“If you’re 75 percent, you’re usually a pretty good ratio, especially playing pretty good people,” Fisher said. “We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to score more points and get the ball in the end zone.”

Putting an end to the red zone frustration would be a giant step toward putting an end to A&M’s losing streak on the road.

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Increased red-zone production required for A&M to end its road woes

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