The SEC Week 5 matchup between No. 21 Mississippi State (3-1) and No. 14 Texas A&M (4-0) should have serious West Division title implications for the winner, making the showdown in College Station one of the top games of the week. The game pits offensive minded coaches Dan Mullen and Kevin Sumlin against one another that has proven to be a barnburner over the last couple of years.
Talk about the College Football Playoffs begins and ends with the SEC and Texas A&M is building momentum to be in the national conversation. The Aggies are 4-0 coming off another thrilling overtime win against Arkansas in Arlington and are now ready to take on another offensive challenge that might be a better fit for their defensive scheme in MSU.
Even though Mississippi State has one conference loss, it was a 21-19 defeat to another national title contender LSU. If the Bulldogs can get a statement win on the road against Texas A&M their SEC West title hopes are still alive.
College Football Podcast: Week 5 Preview with Andy Staples
Mississippi State at Texas A&M
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Coverage: SEC Network
Line: Texas A&M -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Dak Prescott vs. Texas A&M’s defense
Without slighting players on Mississippi State’s offense, the Bulldogs' primary threat is starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has had an outstanding senior season to date completing 67 percent of his passes coming up with 1,069 yards with seven scores without throwing a pick.
The good and the bad is Prescott leads MSU in rushing yards gained with 161 but is in third after accounting for net yards with lost yards on sacks. When Prescott drops back he has two primary weapons in Fred Ross and De’Runnya Wilson and five other targets that can help move the chains in Gus Walley, Ashton Shumpert, Gabe Myles, Donald Gray, and Fred Brown. Ross leads the Bulldogs with 22 receptions and 219 yards but has not found the end zone yet. Wilson has 16 receptions for 201 yards with a team tying two scores.
Tight end Gus Walley has helped stretch linebackers getting mismatches in zones picking up 109 yards on 15 receptions with one touchdown. Running back Ashton Shumpert has emerged as an all-purpose option for Mullen rushing for 128 yards on 32 carries with a score and pulling in 11 passes for 96 yards.
Can A&M slow down Prescott? If so, MSU will be in trouble with the No. 98 rushing attack in the nation collecting 145 yards a game.
2. Texas A&M’s passing offense vs. MSU’s pass defense
The Aggies offensive engine starts with the play under center from starting sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen. Allen has done a great job of spreading the ball around to his playmakers without putting the Aggies in bad situations. Allen has 952 passing yards with 11 scores against two interceptions.
Mississippi State’s pass defense has been good on paper with the nation’s No. 26 unit allowing 170 yards per game but those stats are against Southern Miss, LSU, Northwestern State, and a surprisingly dysfunctional Auburn offense.
The Bulldogs will have to account for up to six pass receiving options throughout the game with true freshman Christian Kirk being at the top of the list. Kirk has not played like a freshman in 2015 but more like an All-American. He has 24 receptions for 442 yards with four scores. Keeping the secondary from double-teaming Kirk are Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones, Damion Ratley, and Speedy Noil with Tra Carson being a very viable option out of the backfield.
3. Mississippi State’s defense vs. Texas A&M’s defense
Both squads will give up yards to the opposition but so far Mississippi State has done a good job under first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz at adopting the bend but don’t break mindset. The Bulldogs are only allowing an average of 14.8 points per game with the caveat that the toughest team they have played was a one-dimensional offense in LSU.
Texas A&M on the other hand is allowing 22 points per contest with marquee games against Arizona State and Arkansas. Mississippi State has been clutch on third down defense only allowing the opposition to continue with a fresh set of downs 23 percent of the time. A&M is close behind at 28 percent.
The team that can get stops in this offensive affair and keep true to their nature coming into the game gets the win.
Texas A&M gets after the quarterback as well as any team in the nation, in fact they are the No. 2 team in the nation with 17 quarterback drops. Dak Prescott is a true dual-threat that can make ends Myles Garrett and Julien Obioha pay if they come too far up field. Prescott is also skilled enough to keep looking down field with pressure around him with the arm strength to get the ball down field to keep drives alive.
If the Aggies had an All-SEC type of back to complement what very well could be the best receiving unit in the nation, A&M would be unstoppable. Kyle Allen showed he was clutch against Arkansas hitting 21-of-28 pass attempts for a career-high 358 yard with two scores that included the game winner in overtime.
Mississippi State is better than believed but the Aggies are picking up momentum and have too many options on offense. MSU might have an unknown at play entering the game. Could this be a trap game for the Aggies with Alabama on Oct. 17 after a bye?
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Mississippi State 21
— 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. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.