An upset-minded Tennessee football team was unable to keep pace on Saturday afternoon.
The Vols dropped a 34-13 decision to No. 5 Texas A&M in the regular-season finale inside Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee finished the regular season with a 3-7 mark with an all-SEC schedule.
“First of all, you’ve got to tip your hat to Texas A&M,” Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “They’ve got a good football team. They were able to run the football. They were able to convert third downs. They kept us from making explosive plays and eliminated our run game. They dominated the time of possession, which eliminated a lot of the opportunities for our guys. It kind of squeezed us out and we couldn’t get off the field on third down and couldn’t create enough momentum offensively.”
The Aggies finished the game 10-of-14 on third-down conversions, while holding a 44:09-15:51 advantage in time of possession.
“I thought today, if you look at what Texas A&M did, they were able to run the football,” Pruitt said. “They converted third downs. I think they were 10-14 on third down. They created a few explosive plays. When we created explosive plays offensively, we scored touchdowns. As the game went, we didn’t get as many explosive plays and it was tougher for us to score.”
Harrison Bailey got the nod at starting quarterback for the Vols and led Tennessee down the field on the game’s opening drive. Bailey hit a wide-open Jacob Warren for a 33-yard touchdown to cap off the drive.
The Aggies, however, answered with a vengeance as Texas A&M scored on their first four drives of the game.
Bailey finished the game 6-of-6 passing before being pulled in the second quarter after a lost fumble.
J.T. Shrout put the Vols on the board in the second stanza as he found a diving Cedric Tillman for a 40-yard touchdown. That cut the Aggie lead to 17-13 with just over four minutes remaining in the half.
Tillman finished the game with 61 yards on two catches, while Shrout was 6-of-14 passing for 104 yards.
On the ensuing A&M drive, the Tennessee defense looked to have gotten off the field with an elusive third-down stop, but an unnecessary roughness penalty on Deandre Johnson gave the Aggies a first down.
“You know, I didn’t see it,” Pruitt said when about the penalty. “You’ve got them in 3rd-and-14 or whatever, and they convert there on a penalty. You obviously can’t hit the quarterback late. I didn’t see it, so I don’t know. You can’t do it, right?”
That penalty led to a touchdown in the final seconds as A&M held a 24-13 lead at the half.
In the third quarter, the Tennessee defense forced a punt and saw Alontae Taylor nab an interception.
However, the offense was unable to seize the momentum.
Texas A&M erased any thoughts of a comeback with a seven-minute drive that pushed the margin to three touchdowns with nine minutes left in the game.
Ty Chandler finished the game with 31 yards on seven carries. Running back Eric Gray was unavailable for the game.
Josh Palmer added three catches for 55 yards.
Henry To’o To’o had 13 total tackles to lead Tennessee, while Quavaris Crouch and Jaylen McCollough had 11 tackles apiece.
The loss caps a season that didn’t go the way of the Vols and questions swirl about Pruitt’s future.
“Absolutely,” Pruitt said on if he felt he would return next season as head coach. “If you look over the first two years we were here, where we were at when we got here. I’ve said it before. From personnel, culture, and what we’re building.”
“I get it. 3-7 is not where we want to be, right? But there’s one thing that I can say. I can lay my head down on my pillow every night and know that I’ve done everything that I could possibly do to make sure that we protected everybody in our program. When looking for a competitive edge, there’s lots of things that we didn’t know about. If we were going to have a COVID season again, I’d probably would be a little bit more prepared to handle it. But I get the business, I understand it.”
In addition, there was a report of a Tennessee Compliance and NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations that broke on Saturday.
“I hadn’t seen an article or anything like that,” Pruitt said when asked about the report. “Anytime in college football or college athletics, you have typical compliance stuff. That’s all I know.”
Tennessee will now wait to find out if they receive a bowl bid for the postseason.
The Vols would be eligible this season as the NCAA waived the .500 winning requirement.
“It would be very important, and we would love the opportunity,” Tennessee senior Brandon Kennedy said. “At one point we didn’t think we would have this season, so to have this opportunity to play and to have another game to play would be a blessing.”
Photos courtesy of Tennessee Athletic Communications.