Rapid Reaction: Texas A&M takes care of business. Now, Aggies wait on Playoff committee
Texas A&M had to beat Tennessee to keep its Playoff hopes alive. The Aggies pulled it off with the same mix of run and safe pass that they’ve used all year, and in doing so dominated time of possession en route to a 34-13 win Saturday. The 8-1 Aggies will be watching the final minutes of the Northwestern/Ohio State Big Ten title game with more than usual interest, as they hope their early loss to Alabama won’t keep them out of the last spot in the College Football Playoff.
Kellen Mond finished with 281 yards and a 1 TD pass against the Vols. He added 59 yards rushing and a TD. The balanced Aggies totaled nearly 500 yards of offense.
Tennessee began the regular-season finale like a team determined to overcome being a 2-touchdown underdog at home. The Vols took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards in just 5 plays, scoring on a 33-yard scoring pass from freshman Harrison Bailey to Jacob Warren. A&M answered on its first possession, using 10 plays to go 75 yards for an equalizing score, this one a 5-yard scoring run from Kellen Mond. After a Tennessee punt, A&M found the end zone again, going 69 yards in 12 plays, scoring on a 3-yard Isaiah Spiller run with 13:17 to play in the second quarter.
With A&M leading 14-7, Tennessee lost a fumble four plays later, with a sack of Bailey by DeMarvin Leal forcing a fumble and giving the Aggies the ball on Tennessee’s side of the field. A 23-yard field goal by Seth Small followed soon thereafter, extending the A&M edge to 17-7.
Tennessee then followed with a 4-play scoring drive, with the final 46 yards coming on a TD pass from J.T. Shrout to Cedric Tillman. A missed PAT left it 17-13. A&M answered with an impressive drive to milk the first half clock, scoring on a 4 yard pass from Mond to Ainias Smith to make it 24-13 with 15 seconds left until halftime.
The teams essentially traded possessions in the second half, with A&M’s passive time of possession advantage shortening the game significantly. A&M essentially put the game away with a 13-play, 88-yard drive early in the 4th quarter. Smith capped the drive with a 1-yard scoring run with 9:02 to play, streatching A&M’s edge to 31-13.
In the first three quarters, A&M held the ball for 32:50, while UT had it for just 12:10.
Tennessee’s passing game was solid early, with Bailey and Shrout both seeing significant playing time. Jeremy Pruitt switched QBs after a Bailey fumble in the 2nd quarter, although the touted freshman had completed all 7 pass attempts to that point. The Vols struggled on the ground, barely averaging a yard per carry for much of the game as they were without leading rusher Eric Gray.
Texas A&M finishes the regular season 8-1, losing only to Alabama in Week 2. The following week’s win 41-38 win over Florida leapfrogged the Aggies back into the CFP discussion, where they have remained since. Tennessee finished the regular season 3-7. Given the COVID-19 rule changes, the Vols could still play in a bowl game. But for the moment, all eyes are on A&M … and Ohio State … and Clemson.