Week 6 SEC: Texas A&M at Mississippi State

    Texas A&M (5-0) at Mississippi State (4-0) Oct. 4, 12:00, ESPN Here’s The Deal: Another week, another big test to see if Texas A&M is the real deal, and

    October 1, 2014

    Texas A&M (5-0) at Mississippi State (4-0) Oct. 4, 12:00, ESPN 

    Here’s The Deal: Another week, another big test to see if Texas A&M is the real deal, and another week when there’s a huge SEC matchup that’s going to determine the fate of Western civilization as we know it. 

    Or maybe this might simply be yet another part of the big puzzle in a division that’s going to see wild twists and turns every week. 

    Coming into the season, this was supposed to be the best Mississippi State team yet in the Dan Mullen era, and it hasn’t disappointed with an explosive and consistent offense that’s cranking out well over 500 yards per game, and a defense that’s among the best in the nation against the run. Past teams under Mullen have appeared ready for lift-off, starting out the 2012 season 7-0 and appearing to have momentum going into 2011 after thumping Michigan in the Gator Bowl, but this is different. This team has the veterans, the superstar quarterback in Dak Prescott, and now it has the win, beating LSU in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1991. With winnable games against Kentucky, Arkansas and UT Martin up next, the spotlight is on. Beat the Aggies, and MSU is almost guaranteed of a top five ranking and a possible 8-0 start before going to Alabama. 

    But along with most teams in the SEC West, Mississippi State doesn’t have a great history against Texas A&M, losing both times with the Aggies as part of the SEC. A classic win in the 200 Independence Bowl – getting by 43-41 in a blizzard – was the last win in the short series that first started in 1912. A&M won 41-7, but MSU got revenge with a 6-0 victory in 1913 – no doubt helped by a tune-up over Transylvania. 

    But this Texas A&M team is a wee bit more explosive than the 100+-year-ago version. 

    And it also might be a wee bit better than the last two juggernauts with Johnny Manziel at the helm. These Aggies proved in wins over South Carolina and Arkansas that they can mix it up a bit a take a big punch, and they’ve shown they can come through in tough situations. Against the Gamecocks, Kenny Hill and the offense all but ended the game on the opening drive – taking the insane crowd out of it right away – and last week, down 14 to a Hog team with the ability to grind out the clock and the game, Hill led the way to 21 unanswered points and the win. 

    The Aggies have little to prove after a good start – everyone knows they’re solid – but the great season could turn in a hurry with Ole Miss and a trip to Alabama to follow. 

    The loser is hardly out of the SEC and national title hunt, but the winner will be right there in the mix as one of the main contenders for both. So which program is ready? 

    Why Texas A&M Might Win: Outside of a late run from LSU, Mississippi State has been nearly flawless so far except for one key area – pass defense. The secondary got lit up by UAB for 435 yards and three scores, and it almost collapsed in Death Valley giving up 341 yards and several big plays late. The pass rush has been terrific, and it should be able to force Hill to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry, but the secondary can’t allow the dangerous Aggie receivers to run free. Hill has been excellent at finding his second and third receiver at the line and making adjustments on the fly. MSU has to be ready to be dinked and dunked on, but it has to swarm in a hurry and it can’t get hit with the home run. The Bulldogs also have to convert on every opportunity. Lousy in the red zone, MSU has scored on just 13-of-18 trips inside the 20, while A&M almost never screws up a chance to score. However …

    Why Mississippi State Might Win: MSU lead the nation in red zone defense allowing teams to get inside the 20 just nine times and giving up just two touchdowns and two field goals. Basically, the Bulldogs have to take what Arkansas did and repeat it. They have to own the time of possession – the Hogs had the ball for 37 minutes – and they have to be efficient throwing the ball and effective at grinding out the running game. Time of possession hasn’t been a big deal so far for MSU, but it needs to be to keep Hill and company off the field. How did Arkansas end up losing? It got hit with the big play, and it wasn’t able to come up with one big fourth quarter scoring drive. MSU is going to come out jacked up and intense – it needs to maintain the momentum for a full four quarters. 

    Who To Watch Out For: Whenever preseason Heisman lists come out, lately, the safest play is The Field, since you never know what player is going to come from out of leftfield and rock. Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott might be the perfect example of that type of player, and in one game, he might be able to push Kenny Hill out of the list of Heisman contenders. Built like a linebacker, he’s big, strong, and nasty to bring down, but he can throw, too, hitting 60% of his passes this year for over 200 years in each of the four games with 11 touchdowns and just two picks. His game, though, is about taking off and making big things happen on the ground, hitting the 100-yard mark in each of the last three games with a score. Last year he lit up A&M for 154 rushing yards and 149 more through the air in the 51-41 loss. This time around, it might be his turn to be on the other side of the shootout. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Prescott and Hill are going to put on a show. The two will make this a shootout from the start, with each offense doing a little of everything right. A&M will run well, MSU will throw great, and it’ll come down to the fourth quarter where Prescott will march the team to a game-winning drive in the final moments, and the D will hang on for one last gasp Hill attempt as he adds on to his 300-yard day. 

    Prediction: Mississippi State 45 … Texas A&M 41 
    Line: Mississippi State -1.5 o/u: 67.5 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Gone Girl – 1: Mulaney … 5 

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