Mississippi State football: 2 matchups MSU needs to win to beat Texas A&M
Mississippi State let victory slip away at various points in its SEC opener last week at Davis Wade Stadium against LSU. Now, the Bulldogs find themselves 7-point underdogs on the road against Texas A&M and at risk of losing their 3rd straight to fall below .500 for the 1st time this year.
If an SEC team is having a weirder year than MSU, it’s Texas A&M. After starting the season ranked in the top 10, TAMU’s star freshman quarterback Haynes King suffered an injury on the road against Colorado. The Aggies eked that win out, but their quarterback issue eventually became an offensive issue as they fell to the spunky Arkansas Razorbacks 20-10 in the Southwest Classic.
Months ago, I suggested that if Mississippi State were going to achieve a massive upset against one of the ranked opponents on its schedule, A&M would be the one.
The Bulldogs sit right between the Southwest Classic in Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and a showdown with the king of the hill, Alabama.
Now, with a division loss, the Aggies won’t be surprised by the Bulldogs. However, the question I have now is, will that matter?
Here are the 2 matchups to watch for an MSU upset over Texas A&M
Will Rogers vs. Zach Calzada
Had King not sustained an injury, it’s possible he’d still be the 2nd-best quarterback in this game. With Zach Calzada at the helm, Mississippi State sophomore Will Rogers will be the best signal-caller.
Although Calzada avoided disaster against Colorado, he hasn’t shown signs of the kind of play the Aggies would need to compete for the SEC West title. Calzada has completed 52 percent of 108 attempts, averaging just 5.6 yards per attempt for 609 yards passing. He has thrown 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
By comparison, Rogers has completed more than 75 percent of his 225 attempts for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns with just 2 interceptions.
There’s no question that a disparity in the scheme between TAMU and MSU is cause for the large difference in how many passes the quarterbacks have attempted.
Even so, Rogers’ success rate has been higher, he’s completing passes for a full yard more per attempt and he has been more careful with the ball than Calzada.
Mississippi State defense vs. Texas A&M offense
This is not to say that the Mississippi State defense is better than the Texas A&M defense, but it is to say that the Mississippi State defense is better than the Texas A&M offense.
The Aggies hung 34 on New Mexico in their 3rd game, but they managed just 10 points in both their win over Colorado and their loss to Arkansas.
We’ve reviewed the passing attack, but the rushing attack is on the fritz as well. Despite a stacked offensive line led by NFL prospects OT Kenyon Green and RB Isaiah Spiller, the Aggies’ running attack as been below expectations. If you adjust for the schedule, it looks worse.
In fact, if you throw out their wins against Kent State and New Mexico, the Aggies are averaging about 4.1 yards per carry against Colorado and Arkansas. Against Arkansas, Spiller carried the ball 12 times for 95 yards and 1 touchdown, which seems excellent. However, 67 of those yards were on a touchdown scamper in the 3rd quarter. That means on the other 11 carries, Spiller rushed for just 2.5 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, the MSU defense has been outstanding against the run. North Carolina State rushed for 148 yards on 51 attempts against Clemson last week, but against MSU they Wolfpack managed just 34 yards on 25 carries. Make no mistake — just like Texas A&M, the Wolfpack has NFL talent in its running game, too.
Texas A&M, on paper, should win this game. It is favored, it is at Kyle Field and it’s important for the strength of the program. Meanwhile, MSU is playing for the future.
A month ago, I thought the Bulldogs could pull the trap-game upset. Now, having 4 games as data points, and including a major injury for the Aggies, I think the Bulldogs are simply better. MSU wins 35-34.