Bulldogs – Aggies Both Want Redemption – TechVerdant

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It was a sad Homecoming in Starkville as Mississippi State went down to Kentucky 27-3. The Bulldogs were even less effective on offense than in the last few weeks. The defense did show up for the second half allowing only three points in the period. But this has become a bad pattern for the Dawgs in recent outings. Likewise, Texas A&M is having troubles of its own. They have won only one of their last four games and just came out of a fight that could have seen them taking down the number nine Ole Miss Rebels. They were leading by four points late in the fourth quarter 35-31, but ended giving it up 38-35. The Bulldogs and Aggies both need redemption to carry on for the remainder of the season.

A&M is one win away from bowl eligibility. Likewise, State is looking for the same post-season reward. However, their mountain is two games higher with only three left in the regular season. This is a pivotal game for the Dawgs, because after this one, it’s Southern Mississippi at home and then the Egg Bowl, in Starkville. It would be a gamble to take the Aggies for granted. Then, there is the fact that the game is on the road, at College Station, Kyle Field, 100-thousand people, and one of the most hostile environments for visiting teams there is.

Here We Are Again

As with the past few weekends, there is still the question of who will take the helm at quarterback. The offense under Mike Wright is ineffective. Fans were heading for the exits in the third quarter, which is uncharacteristic for a Mississippi State crowd. In his three starts, Wright is slightly over 50% in passing, going 27 of 53, 239 yards and one touchdown.

Then there’s true freshman Chris Parson, who saw his first action against Kentucky. He moved the ball, but couldn’t get into the endzone. He drove the offense as close as the three-yard-line, but penalties, one of which was intentional grounding, shot that drive in the foot.

This is clearly veteran quarterback Will Rogers offense to run and win, if at all possible. In his Monday press conference, head coach Zach Arnett was as close as he has come before to saying Rogers could play.  “In reality, we’re going to see what Will’s availability is this week,” Arnett said. “He’s practicing and able to do more and more and more. So, if it’s determined he’s able to go, he’s our starting quarterback.” But then we come back to that gamble. If the Dawgs have a shot at being bowl-eligible, the odds are better to start this weekend. Rogers is probably their best chance.

Defense – A Couple of Bad Patterns

Against Kentucky, only 14 of the first-half points were scored by the Wildcats’ offense. The other seven were due to a pick-six.  Following an opening Kentucky score, the Bulldog defense actually held them the rest of the half until 52 seconds left, when quarterback Devin Leary hit Dane Key on a four-yard touchdown. But that is another bad pattern. In the last nine games, State has allowed a touchdown six times inside of one minute before the half. In his Kentucky post-game presser, defensive coordinator Matt Brock put some of the blame on up-tempo. “You just look at the breakdowns when it happens,” Brock said. “The breakdowns are the same. Sometimes in two-minute (drill), there’s more tempo involved, but in today’s game, two-minute is a different scenario because everybody plays with tempo.”

Then there is defensive play within the red zone. 24 out of 26 times, there has been some kind of scoring when the opponent gets beyond the Bulldog 20-yard line. 17 of those scores have been touchdowns. Brock had no real answer for that one, only stating the obvious. “Playing good defense is playing good defense, and playing bad defense is playing bad defense, whether it’s a two-minute drill or the first drive of the game,” said Brock.  That may come as little solace to State fans as the Dawgs face a Texas A&M offense that put up 457 total yards against the number nine Rebels.

Frustration in College Station

This has not been the way Aggie head coach Jimbo Fisher imagined his sixth year with A&M would go. They are 5-4, 3-3 in the SEC, which has their fan base as restless as the Bulldog fans are with Arnett. Hot seat discussions are being had about both coaches. If the Aggies get one more win this would be the first time they have become bowl-eligible in two years. Coming off a tough loss to Ole Miss, you can bet they don’t want another one to get away.

They are also having injury issues of their own. Quarterback Max Johnson went 31 of 42 (73%) and 305 yards passing against a tough Rebel defense. However, he was injured late in the game and is listed as questionable for the game Saturday. The word is that backup Jaylen Henderson, a transfer from Fresno State, will likely start. Still, Fisher says he intends to play Johnson regardless of his injury. “Max was able to finish the game, was a couple of tough shots, but we’ll wait and see how it goes,” Fisher said in his post-game press conference. “But he should be good. I’m planning on him playing and hopefully, we’ll see as it goes day by day.” A&M also lists freshman Marcel Reed as a potential quarterback if Johnson isn’t able to go, which is a familiar scenario for Bulldog fans as well.

If Wishes Were Horses…

Mississippi State has gone to a bowl game consecutively for the last 13 seasons. It would be a major disappointment all the way around should they drop two of their last three games. To avoid that disappointment, it’s imperative to start with Texas A&M. That’s a tall order considering they played toe-to-toe with the big guns. In their losses to number eight Alabama, number 13 Tennessee, and number nine Ole Miss, the Aggies’ deficit was never more than seven points.

That being said, State could still pull this one out. It will depend on Rogers returning to lead the offense, along with their ace running back Woody Marks, who is also listed as day-to-day. The Dawgs could also get back to the way they were utilizing Tulu Griffin, running or receiving. The defense will need to play to their potential and for both halves, not just the last one. The noise of the 12th man at College Station will also need to be nullified early. That means starting fast, which has been a struggle this year.

Once again, the Bulldog-faithful will be taken to the breach. Arnett is still a glass-half-full kind of coach.  “The only objective is to win,” Arnett said. “You only put guys out there you feel give you a chance to win. We have young guys playing for us we think do that. When you get late in the year and some guys are unavailable, that gives you more opportunities. Make no mistake, the objective is to win games.”

Mississippi State vs. Texas A&M kicks off at 7:30pm ET and can be seen on ESPN2.

 

Photo courtesy: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

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