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Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State Prediction: Aggies Head to Starkville Looking for Payback

After getting upset by the Bulldogs at home last season, A&M hopes to return the favor in Davis Wade Stadium.

An intriguing matchup between a pair of 3-1 SEC West teams awaits, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs play host to the No. 17-ranked Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday evening in Starkville.

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Texas A&M needed a couple of big breaks to survive a thriller last Saturday against No. 10-ranked Arkansas in the Southwest Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The 23-21 victory over the Razorbacks marked the Aggies' second consecutive win against a top-15 opponent, helping ease the embarrassing 17-14 upset loss at home to Appalachian State back in Week 2. Running back Devon Achane led the way with a career-high 159 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Now 3-1 and 1-0 in SEC play, Jimbo Fisher's squad will hit the road for its first true away game of the season against Mississippi State inside hostile Davis Wade Stadium. After falling victim to the Bulldogs 26-22 in upset fashion last season in College Station, the underdog Aggies will look to play the role of spoiler this time around and exact some revenge.

Mississippi State managed to bounce back nicely from its 31-16 road loss to LSU in Week 3 with a lopsided 45-14 win over Bowling Green last Saturday in Starkville. Quarterback Will Rogers led the way for Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, racking up 409 passing yards and matching his own school record with six touchdown passes. The Bulldogs improved to 3-1 with the win, but they are still in search of their first SEC victory of the season. With a brutal slate of conference games lying in wait for Mississippi State, a win against the Aggies on Saturday may be vital.

Saturday's game will mark the 16th meeting between Texas A&M and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs lead the overall series 8-7, thanks to last year's victory in College Station.

No. 17 Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Mississippi State -3.5
Tickets: As low as $16 on SITickets.com

When Texas A&M Has the Ball

It's been tough sledding for an Aggies offense that is still trying to find its identity. Through four games, they rank dead last in the SEC in scoring (21.3 ppg), total (322.5 ypg), and passing (193.8 ypg) offense. And the ground game (128.8 ypg, 11th) has only been slightly better at in 100th nationally. Texas A&M has been perfect in the red zone, but no FBS team has made fewer trips inside the 20 than the Aggies (six). Barring a huge turnaround, the Aggies will once again have their work cut out against a Mississippi State defense that is giving up a respectable 21.3 points and 319.3 yards per game.

LSU transfer Max Johnson will make his third start at quarterback on Saturday after replacing Haynes King following the Week 2 debacle against Appalachian State. While Johnson's numbers leave plenty to be desired  completing just 53.3 percent of his pass attempts for 314 yards with two touchdowns  he is 2-0 as the starter against a pair of top-15 teams and has yet to commit a turnover.

Unfortunately, Johnson will now be without his top weapon following a season-ending leg injury to star wide receiver and return specialist Ainias Smith last week against Arkansas. The Aggies still have plenty of pass-catching options, but no one has really emerged aside from Smith. Highly touted freshman wide receiver Evan Stewart (13 rec., 141 yds., TD) has shown flashes, but he will need to take on a much bigger role moving forward. The same goes for fellow wideout Yulkeith Brown (5, 97, TD) and tight end Donovan Green (5, 80). The Bulldogs have been solid but unspectacular against the pass in the early going, giving up 205.8 yards per game through the air, which ranks eighth in the SEC and 49th nationally.

The good news is that the ground game is starting to emerge for A&M. The offensive line is starting to get healthy and the improvement was apparent last Saturday. But the true catalyst has been the speedy Achane, who is coming off a career-best 159-yard performance against the Razorbacks. With Smith out, Achane is the top threat in this offense, and the Aggies will need to lean heavily on him moving forward. That also makes Achane the focal point of the Mississippi State defense. The Bulldogs are giving up 114 rushing yards per game, which is solid (44th in FBS), but Achane's big-play potential will test this unit.

When Mississippi State Has the Ball

Now in his third season as a starter, Rogers is the driving force behind Mike Leach's pass-happy spread attack, which is averaging 37.3 points and 431.8 yards per game. The junior quarterback ranks second in the SEC in completion rate (74.1 percent), leads the conference and ranks second among FBS signal-callers in passing yards (1,386), and is tied for the most touchdown passes in the country (16). It's also notable that Rogers absolutely picked apart the Texas A&M defense last season — completing 46-of-59 pass attempts for 408 yards and three touchdowns.

Rogers will spread the ball around, but Caleb Ducking (21 rec., 258 yds., 5 TDs), has emerged as his favorite target in the early going. Fellow wide Receivers Rara Thomas (15, 225, 2), Rufus Harvey (19, 188, TD), and Lideatrick Griffin (16, 177, TD) have made their presence felt as well. Griffin also stars in the return game, averaging an impressive 33.5 yards per kickoff return.

The silver lining for the Aggie defense is that Rogers has thrown three interceptions and his 7.3 yards per pass attempt ranks just 11th in the SEC. Texas A&M also has a new defensive coordinator in D.J. Durkin, whose scheme played a big role in limiting Rogers to just one touchdown pass as DC for a less talented Ole Miss defense last season  a game the Rebels won. The Aggies also sport one of the top pass defenses in the country, led by star defensive back Antonio Johnson, which allows 5.2 yards per pass attempt (ranked No. 1 in the SEC). However, A&M will need to get more from its young, but very talented, defensive front, which has generated a total of six sacks.

While running the football is far from a strength for the Bulldogs, Leach has placed a little more emphasis on that aspect so far this season. It certainly doesn't hurt that he has a pair of talented running backs in Dillon Johnson (6.5 ypc) and Jo'quavious "Woody" Marks (139 rushing yds., 4 TDs). Johnson also is tied for the team lead with 21 receptions. The Aggies have been vulnerable on the ground, giving up 177 rushing yards per game (104th), but don't expect Leach to abandon his beloved aerial attack. After all, Mississippi State is averaging 81 rushing yards per game, which places the Bulldogs last in the SEC, again.

Final Analysis

Texas A&M enters Saturday's matchup with a few things in its favor, most notably a more talented roster and a defense that allows just 11.8 points per game. The Aggies also match up well against what Mississippi State does best  throwing the football. Additionally, the Bulldog ground game isn't exactly a huge threat. And there's also a revenge factor in play.

However, the A&M defense was no pushover last season, and Leach's offense still found a way to come out on top with Rogers methodically picking the Aggies apart. You can probably expect a better effort on that side of the football this time around with Durkin now calling the defensive plays, but the Aggies still face a steep challenge.

The real question is  Can the Texas A&M offense generate enough points to come away with the win in their first true road game of the season, in a hostile environment, against a solid Mississippi State defense? Based on what we have seen from the A&M offense so far (now minus its best weapon), the answer is no. Bulldogs hold on for a hard-fought win.

Prediction: Mississippi State 24, Texas A&M 20

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— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

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