Virus concern colors lead-up to No. 5 Aggies-Vols game
Based on the events of the past five weeks, it seems as if COVID-19 might be a tougher opponent for No. 5 Texas A&M than a Saturday trip to reeling Tennessee.
The Aggies paused football activities on Monday after learning of positive tests by a player and a student helper following a 48-3 win at South Carolina last Saturday. Coach Jimbo Fisher said his team didn’t lose much from missing practice since it was going to be a light workout.
“That’s the thing about this thing,” Fisher said of conducting a season amid a pandemic for which there is no vaccine. “You can be as safe as you can be in your protocols and the things that are going on, which I think are excellent, but it can just happen. That’s the unfortunate thing about it.”
Health issues overshadowed another outstanding week of Aggies football. Texas A&M (5-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) played a near-flawless game against the Gamecocks, controlling both sides of the scrimmage line. Only a long field goal in the game’s final six minutes kept the Aggies from producing a shutout.
Logic suggests the A&M defense should feast on a sputtering Tennessee offense. The Volunteers managed just 21 yards and one first down on their first five possessions of the second half last week in a 24-13 loss at Arkansas.
What’s more, the Volunteers (2-4, 2-4) have even bigger questions at quarterback than many of their fans think they do at coach. Starter Jarrett Guarantano left the Arkansas game in the third quarter with a head injury, and his status is day-to-day.
“We’ll work the other guys and see how we develop this week,” coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We’ll work a good game plan that fits all those guys.”
Backups Brian Maurer and Harrison Bailey were far from stellar after Guarantano departed. Maurer misfired on all four of his passes while Bailey was 6 of 9 but ended Tennessee’s final two drives with interceptions.
Pruitt’s seat is getting hotter than the flames of a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Some Volunteers fans took to social media to suggest that legendary quarterback Peyton Manning take over the program. At least outwardly, Pruitt shares their frustration over the Vols’ current four-game losing streak.
“I’m just as restless as they are,” he said. “I think everybody is kind of in this together. My name is at the head of this organization. I understand that. We got to find a way to get it going. That’s on me as the coach to get it going.”
That might be easier said than done against an Aggies offense that epitomizes balance. Quarterback Kellen Mond threw four touchdown passes at South Carolina, giving him a program-record 68 in his career, and Isaiah Spiller rushed for 131 yards in a half and a minute of the third quarter before leaving with an injury.
This will be Texas A&M’s first visit to Knoxville. The Volunteers hold a 2-1 lead in the all-time series, having beaten the Aggies in the 1957 Gator Bowl and the 2005 Cotton Bowl before falling at College Station in 2016.
–Field Level Media