Texas A&M football: 5 early thoughts on Mississippi State
The Aggies will host Mississippi State on Saturday morning at Kyle Field looking to snap a 3-game losing streak to the Bulldogs.
Here are 5 thoughts about the matchup, its importance and what we might expect from what appears to be another close game, which is par for the course in the SEC West.
1. Double-digit favorite?
In 2 conference victories this season (Arkansas and Ole Miss) the Aggies have won by 4 and 7 points, respectively. Mississippi State appears to be at or above the level of those teams. So how is Texas A&M a 10-point favorite to beat the Bulldogs?
I just don’t see it. At this point, a 1-point victory would be welcomed. Unless the Aggies can force a bunch of turnovers, this game should go down to the wire.
Perhaps the oddsmakers are relying on history. Seven of the past 8 regular season meetings have ended in double-digit margins, with the Bulldogs’ 35-28 victory in 2016 the only exception. That’s not counting the 2000 “Snow” Bowl in Shreveport (otherwise known as the Independence Bowl) in which the Bulldogs survived 43-41.
There doesn’t figure to be snow in College Station on Saturday, but a similarly close result would appear to be in the offing.
2. Mississippi State’s defense
The Bulldogs “held” LSU to a season-low 36 points Saturday in Starkville. Statistically, the Bulldogs are ranked near the bottom of the SEC in rushing (10th) and passing (11th) yards given up, and are 12th in the SEC in scoring defense, yielding an average of 28.4 points per game.
Perhaps those numbers are a bit skewed by the 51 points that Auburn put on the Bulldogs a few weeks back. Mississippi State has held 3 opponents to 20 or fewer points (Southern Miss 15; Kentucky 13, Tennessee 20). It will be interesting to see if the Aggies’ offense bends the Bulldogs defense or breaks it.
3. Sweeping Mississippi teams?
The Aggies haven’t swept the Mississippi SEC West foes since the days of Johnny Manziel. They have a chance on Saturday. What would that mean for the program? Perhaps nothing. But it’s a step in the right direction. It’s somewhat of a measuring stick, albeit a stretch, it would give some measure of improvement in the big picture.
If nothing else, it creates a gap between the Aggies and the bottom tier of the division.
4. First team to 20 points, wins
The Over/Under is 52 and the way these offenses have looked in the past month, that might be a stretch. In this day of pass-happy, high-scoring games, Mississippi State hasn’t scored topped 28 since Week 2 and is averaging 15 in its past 3 SEC games.
In their past 4 games, all against SEC West competition, the Aggies have made it past 28 points only once. Even Vegas is expecting a low-scoring, hard-nosed defensive struggle. Neither team has been particularly good in the red zone, and both teams’ kickers have had their problems.
Points could come at a premium Saturday.
5. Another must-win
Like the Ole Miss game, a victory over Mississippi State at home on Saturday is imperative to the continued development of the program. So far, the Aggies haven’t beaten the elite teams they’ve faced (Clemson, Alabama), so they must continue to defeat the teams they should. On Saturday, the Aggies face a team they should beat.
Moving to 5-3 instead of falling back to 4-4 would be huge, especially with UTSA next up and the potential of becoming bowl eligible with a 3rd consecutive victory and 6th overall. A victory all would get the Aggies off the win-lose-repeat roller coaster they’ve been on all season.
Momentum is the goal.
It’s big not only to continue the program building process and secure a spot in the postseason, but also out of necessity with South Carolina, Georgia and LSU looming on the back end of the schedule.