The meat-grinder that is the SEC is in full swing, separating the men from the boys on the gridiron. While many programs across the college football landscape have not had the seasons planned, there are still goals to attain for many — namely bowl eligibility after reaching the six-win plateau. On Saturday, the Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-4, 1-3 SEC) travel to College Station to take on the Texas A&M Aggies (4-3, 2-2) in an SEC West clash, with each looking to take a step towards earning an invite to a quality postseason destination.
There is never a great time to be a visiting football team in College Station, but this trip for second-year Bulldogs head coach Joe Moorhead is coming at a really bad time. MSU is on a three-game slide, dropping contests to then-No. 7 Auburn (56-23), at Tennessee (20-10), and at home to No. 2 LSU (36-13). During the losing streak, State is averaging 314 yards per game on offense with a low of 267 yards against Tennessee. The defense has not been able to shoulder the burden, giving way to 449 yards per contest during the skid with a high of 578 yards against Auburn.
Meanwhile, A&M’s season to date has been one of streaks — win one then lose one. Going with the trend, all the losses came at the hands of top-10 teams: Clemson, Auburn, and Alabama. The Aggies showed their toughness last week in a hard-fought 24-17 road win against Ole Miss. Statistically, the Rebels outplayed the Aggies, but an A&M scoop-and-score by Buddy Johnson in the third quarter proved to be the dynamic play that was the difference in the game.
Mississippi State at Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Texas A&M -10.5
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
MSU, much like A&M, has an offense that is revolving around the quarterback play. Last week against LSU, that quarterback was Garrett Shrader. The four-star dual-threat freshman has been thrust into a sink-or-swim position and has come out of games looking like he was treading water. On the season, Shrader has completed 59 percent of his passes but has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns (4). His ability to run is helping the offense, as Shrader is the team’s second-leading rusher at 440 yards on 78 carries with three scores.
Another trend during State’s losing streak is the decline of production by running back Kylin Hill. The junior tailback was leading the SEC in rush yards three weeks ago but dropped to fourth after producing a total of 92 yards during the slide. Adding to the woes of the offense, Hill has not reached the end zone in those contests; can he get it going again? Another standout on the Bulldogs’ offense who has been quieted during conference play is receiver Osirus Mitchell. Mitchell has been held to seven total receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown over the last three games.
A&M fans are not sure which rush defense will show up for games. Against Alabama, they held the Tide to 155 yards and a score on 31 carries, but against Ole Miss, the Rebels netted an impressive 250 yards with two touchdowns off 44 totes. The Aggies defense did a great job of corralling Rebels quarterback Matt Corral, limiting their dual-threat to 124 yards passing with a pick and five yards rushing. If they can do the same against Shrader, this should be a nice home win.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
Coming off a physical game against No. 1 Alabama, Kellen Mond turned in his worst passing performance of the season against Mississippi, hitting on just 16 of 28 passes for 172 yards with one score against two picks. He did extend drives with his legs, covering 76 yards on 15 carries though. Mond has a great trio of receivers but was not in sync with his corps in Oxford. Kendrick Rogers was held to two receptions for 23 yards but did pull in a touchdown pass, while Quartney Davis had one catch for 15 yards. Jhamon Ausbon was active with five for 47 yards. For A&M to get six-plus wins this season, this battery needs to get back on track.
Since the loss of starting tailback Jashaun Corbin for the season (hamstring), the ground game has been fragile at best. But there are signs of life. After being held under 100 yards against Auburn and Arkansas, the group compiled 125 against Alabama and 165 against Ole Miss. The trouble is Mond is the one leading the charge with 166 and a score over the last two contests. Freshman tailback Isaiah Spiller showed promise last week with 78 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. As a team, the Aggies are picking up 137 per game on the ground, which ranks 95th nationally. Mond needs help on the ground, which will open up passing lanes.
The Bulldogs’ defense lost a lot of talent to the NFL off the 2018 roster, and this group has fallen way off the pace from a year ago. Last season, MSU had the top-ranked total defense, holding teams to 263 yards per outing. This year, the unit is giving way to 397, 70th nationally. Teams are rushing for 153 per game and throwing for 244 yards. Middle linebacker Erroll Thompson and free safety C.J. Morgan are the playmakers for the defense.
Both teams have been off their game this season, and the competition along with the alignment of the schedule has played a big factor. The two squads mirror one another in many ways — heavy reliance on a dual-threat quarterback with a running game that is shaky at best and a defense that tries to bend and not break. Mississippi State has owned the last three meetings, thanks in large part to their defense, but this one should snap the streak with an A&M team that is a little bit better on both sides of the ball and has the home-field advantage.
Prediction: Texas A&M 33, Mississippi State 14
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.