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Texas A&M brings dynamic defense to No. 19 Tennessee

As Week 7 arrives for Southeastern Conference teams, Texas A&M and No. 19 Tennessee have reached the must-win portion of their schedules.

Meeting for the first time since 2020 and only the fifth time overall, the Aggies (4-2, 2-1) will visit the Volunteers (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.

Coming off a bye week following a 41-20 home blowout of South Carolina on Sept. 30, Tennessee has little margin for error as Texas A&M makes just its second trip to Rocky Top.

The win over the Gamecocks was tainted by the season-ending loss of reliable receiver Bru McCoy, who made a crucial catch before the last-second, game-winning field goal in last year’s 52-49 win over No. 3 Alabama.

However, Volunteers coach Josh Heupel said defense will be the key against the Aggies.

Tennessee and Texas A&M rank 1-2 in the country in average sacks per game, with the Vols topping the stat with 22 in five outings (4.4 per game) while the Aggies have 26 in six (4.3).

“Guys are playing violent, they’re disruptive, they’re jumping the football and winning one-on-one battles,” Heupel, the third-year Vols coach, said Monday. “We’re going to continue to need that. All offseason a point of emphasis for us was the ability to apply pressure to the quarterback, not just with (blitz) pressure, and our guys have done a good job.”

Texas A&M brings the nation’s 10th-ranked defense to Neyland Stadium, allowing just 268.8 yards per contest.

In its final two September games, the Aggies posted 30 tackles for loss — 15 each against Auburn and Arkansas in season-high-tying performances.

However, Alabama’s Jalen Milroe torched the Aggies for 321 yards and three touchdown passes in the Crimson Tide’s 26-20 win last Saturday at College Station.

Also of note is coach Jimbo Fisher’s dismal record in true road games since his 2018 arrival at Texas A&M: 7-14, with his best away campaign coming in COVID-affected 2020 when the Aggies won four of five.

One of those was a 34-13 triumph in Knoxville in front of just 22,645 fans in the teams’ regular-season finale.

Still, Fisher said he has not changed his approach in hitting the road in the competitive conference.

“What you approach is your maturity and how you practice,” Fisher said Monday. “Mature teams play well on the road. Mature teams that are confident and trust in things and believe in themselves. When you’re on the road in this league, it’s hard. Tennessee is one of those hard places, but hopefully your maturity will help.”

With each team already owning one SEC loss, no wiggle room likely exists for dropping games in the hunt for an SEC division title.

Tennessee still has back-to-back road games starting next week at No. 11 Alabama and No. 24 Kentucky, plus a Nov. 18 home matchup with top-ranked Georgia.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M still has tough road tests at No. 13 Ole Miss and No. 22 LSU on its slate to shape its fate.

–Field Level Media

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