Are Vols built to win a shootout against Texas A&M?
It really does not make sense that Tennessee is sitting at 5-0, the Vols’ best start since the 1998 national championship season.
In all five games, Tennessee has had to grind it out, rally and occasionally hope. It needed overtime to prevent a disastrous opening game shocker against Appalachian State. It erased a 14-point deficit to beat Virginia Tech, a 21-point deficit to Florida, a 17-point deficit at Georgia.
It hasn’t been pretty, but the only thing that matters is that the Vols are 5-0 heading into College Station to play the No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies.
A slow start has placed Tennessee in a hole in every game, and a sense of urgency has made Tennessee’s offense come alive in the second half.
The questions are: Can the Vols afford to dig themselves a hole Saturday against one of the SEC’s best offenses? Are they built to win a shootout?
The Aggies are averaging 39.2 points per game — third in the SEC.
Since Butch Jones arrived, the Vols are just 4-11 when their opponent scores 30 or more points.
The Vols are 4-11 when their opponent scores 30 or more points.
- 2013: 0-6
- 2014: 1-4 (beat South Carolina 45-42 OT)
- 2015: 2-1 (beat Bowling Green 59-30 and Georgia 38-31)
- 2016: 1-0 (beat Georgia 34-31)
The Vols are 1-3 when their opponent tops 40 points.
- 2013 at Oregon (L, 59-14)
- 2013 at Alabama (L, 45-10)
- 2013 vs. Auburn (L, 55-23)
- 2014 at South Carolina (W, 45-42 OT)
The Vols are 18-2 when they score 30 or more points.
- 2013: 3-1
- 2014: 6-1
- 2015: 6-0
- 2016: 3-0
And they are 7-0 when they score 40 or more against a Power 5 opponent.
- 2013: 0-0
- 2014: 3-0
- 2015: 3-0
- 2016: 1-0
Slow starts have dogged Tennessee in 2016. Jones has seen enough. He said he didn’t care for the Vols sleep-walking through the first half against Georgia.
“I thought we were nonchalant,” he told reporters. “I didn’t think we were very physical on both sides of the football. There’s something about this team; they’re resilient. They understand. And you don’t win a game like that if you don’t have character, and I continue to say it.”
The nonchalant character of Tennessee opening games needs to be corrected, and maybe the Hail Mary game-winning touchdown at Georgia – while staring at defeat – will be the root cause for Team 120 to begin games with a sense of urgency.
“I told our players at halftime that we take care of you here,” Jones said of having to motivate his players at halftime once again. “We make sure that you have the best-of-the-best, but the things we can’t give you is a will to win, a heart and a desire.
“I said that you’re going to show me how bad you want it in the second half. They came out and I thought we played pretty good football in the second half to overcome it. I am as mind-boggled as everyone else of the slow starts. We’ll keep making it a teaching point, make the start of practice different and continue to emphasis it. At the end of the day, the best you can be is 5-0 and we’re 5-0.”
The expectation of winning a shootout with continued first half struggles is minimal.
The Aggies are coming off a disappointing offensive performance as well, and returning home. They’re also 5-0 — and 3-0 in the SEC for the first time. All of the preseason goals Tennessee set — division title, SEC championship, college football playoff — the Aggies have those, too.
The Aggies have unmatched talent in their deep receiving corps. Trevor Knight is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, and freshman Trayveon Williams is well on his way to a 1,000-yard season.
The potential for the Aggies to score 30 or even 40 points is possible, if not likely.
As the history shows, that’s a dangerous total for the Vols to try and overcome.