Tennessee will be the fresher team with the most fans Saturday afternoon when the No. 19 Volunteers face Texas A&M inside Neyland Stadium, but will that be enough to top the talent-rich Aggies?
The most unique Southeastern Conference matchup of Tennessee’s 2023 season — the Vols (4-1, 1-1 SEC) and Aggies (4-2, 2-1) are colliding for just the third time since Texas A&M joined the league in 2012 — contains a pair of notable advantages for the Vols. Tennessee had its lone open date last weekend, while Texas A&M sustained an emotional 26-20 loss to No. 11 Alabama in College Station.
Vols third-year coach Josh Heupel believes the brief time off provided the necessary rejuvenation.
“Practice has been really good. They’ve been locked in,” Heupel said Thursday during his final news conference of the week. “They’re excited about this one, and they understand the type of opponent that we’re playing. The timing of the bye week came at the right time for us where we were at, so it’s been good.”
While Tennessee was resting last Saturday, the Aggies were building a 17-10 halftime lead against an Alabama program they have topped just once in the past decade. In the second half, the Crimson Tide took over, holding the Aggies to 103 yards, including just 15 on the ground.
“That’s always going to be a tough loss,” Aggies fifth-year senior guard Layden Robinson said this week, “but at the end of the day, we’re at a stage of, ‘What now? What are we going to do now?’ We’re not going to hold our heads down in self-pity. We’ve got another great team, and we’re about to go into their home.
“That’s a great atmosphere to play in, and I know that’s going to be a great team that’s going to be ready to play.”
Both Tennessee and Texas A&M have imposing facilities in the neighborhood of 102,000 seats, and Neyland will have a checkerboard look that served as the setting for last season’s 38-33 outlasting of Florida. The Vols have won 12 consecutive games at home, and Neyland will be sold out for a 10th straight time.
Texas A&M is looking to halt a seven-game losing streak in true road games, which was extended with last month’s 48-33 setback at Miami, a game the Aggies led 17-7 in the second quarter.
“I anticipate it being a great environment here inside of Neyland Stadium,” Heupel said. “We need our fans to show up. I hope they enjoyed their bye week, but they better be rested and recovered and ready to roll in this one.
“They need to be a factor in this football game.”
Texas A&M will arrive with Jimbo Fisher having assembled top-10 signing classes from 2020-22, including the nation’s No. 1 crop in 2022. Since landing that top-ranked class, however, the Aggies are just 9-9 overall and 4-7 in conference contests.
Tennessee has its second commitment for its 2025 signing class, receiving a nonbinding pledge from Dylan Lewis, a three-star cornerback out of Milton High School in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta. The 6-foot, 180-pounder is the nation’s No. 46 cornerback and No. 453 overall prospect in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
The first 2025 commitment for the Vols was fellow Milton High three-star corner Shamar Arnoux (6-1, 170).
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].