Call this the Emory Bellard/Jackie Sherrill Classic as Mississippi State and Texas A&M will get together on Saturday afternoon in College Station.
This battle of Maroons features programs that were each once under the tutelage of those two legendary coaches. But now these two teams come into this game psychologically limping. Mississippi State has lost the last two weeks in a row in close fashion to Memphis and LSU, pulling its win-loss mark to 2-2.
The Aggies had their 11-game winning streak come to an end in that 20-10 loss to Arkansas last Saturday, causing them to fall out of the top 10 for the first time this season. In their two real games played so far this season, they managed to score just 10 points against both Colorado and Arkansas, so the warts on the nose are starting to show.
Right about now, both of these teams could use a fiery pregame speech from one of their old mentors.
Mississippi State at No. 15 Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 2 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas A&M -7
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
Ugh, I was terribly wrong last week in the assessment that Year 2 in the Mike Leach system will bring about certain improvement. Instead, the offense has shown a tendency to bog down at times and the seat is already getting a little warm under his canasta. (You KNOW it doesn't take long for that to happen in this Saban-era of the SEC). Behind quarterback Will Rogers, the 'Dogs are ninth in the SEC in total yards (426.3 ypg) and 11th in scoring (28.3 ppg). But at the same time, Rogers has completed 50 and 47 passes in his last two games, the two highest marks in SEC history, so expect more of the same. That is, as long as the O-line can continue to hold up alright (just one sack allowed vs. LSU).
The third quarter is the only quarter in which the Bulldogs have been outscored this season, by a 31-14 margin. Because of that slow start to second halves this year, the Bullies have trailed in the second half in three of the four games so far. Leach knows it's a big key, "We've gotta come out in the third quarter better than we have been. We've gotta stick together and make routine plays."
It's hard to blame the A&M defense for much of this season's foibles because they come into this game ranking second in the nation in points allowed at 9.4 points per game. There are NFL talents at each level of the defense, and they will also be the best defense that this Bulldog offense has seen this year. Yet, that group also gave up 10 plays of 20-plus yards in the first half alone against Arkansas. Gah.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
Man alive, the banged-up offensive line can't get a break. The running game hasn't been as big of a factor as expected, and last week saw them start three freshmen across the front line. They rank 80th nationally, giving up nine sacks on the season and also suffered eight quarterback hurries against the Razorbacks. There were a handful of times when Arkansas rushed just three down linemen and were still able to get pressure on Zach Calzada. That's a really bad sign.
Speaking of the QB, Calzada is hitting just 51 percent of his passes, going 37-for-72 so far. Watching the A&M games against Colorado and Arkansas, you can just see the frustration on Calzada's face and the yelling and pleading that Jimbo Fisher is doing every time he comes off the field. Look for the Bulldogs to pursue him with abandon this week, especially on obvious passing downs.
One thing that needs to change immediately is the involvement of Jalen Wydermeyer. The 6-foot-5 All-American tight end has 90 career catches but only one (1) came last week. He also has yet to get a TD catch yet this season. This dude is far too valuable to be collecting cobwebs out there.
Both teams are looking for a breakout game, but with these two defenses, it's tough to say it'll be this week. Points will certainly be at a premium, and home-field advantage will come into play as well.
The last two weeks, I have been assigned to preview MSU games and my prediction was for State to lose to Memphis and LSU both by three points. And as it turns out, the Bulldogs ended up losing the two games BY … wait for it … wait for it … a combined five points. Sadly, I'm seeing another heartbreaker for MSU here.
But look on the bright side, Bulldogs, by the time this game ends on Saturday it's just 140 days until the first pitch for your defending national champion baseball team's season.
Prediction: Texas A&M 13, Mississippi State 9
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— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.