Somehow Texas A&M dominated defensively but could never put the Mississippi State Bulldogs to bed… until the final drive.
Mike Elko’s strong defensive unit led the Aggies to a 28-14 victory at Wade Davis Stadium. While A&M’s offense wasn’t nearly as potent as they were a week ago, the Ags’ defense proved they were up to the task of facing the air raid offense.
Following a K.J. Costello fumble that set up a short Texas A&M touchdown drive to put the Aggies up 28-7, Mike Leach turned to true freshman Will Rogers at quarterback. On his second drive, Rogers led an 89-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 32-yard catch-and-run to Malik Heath to trim A&M’s lead to 28-14. It was Mississippi State’s first offensive score in nine quarters.
Mississippi State’s offensive woes had been well noted coming into the contest, and they continued on Saturday. Texas A&M held the Bulldogs scoreless in the first half, and prior to the Rogers’ touchdown pass to Heath, the Bulldogs had punted six times on eight offensive possessions, with the other two ending on turnovers.
The two sides then traded punts, with Texas A&M taking over at the State 40-yard line with 5:06 remaining in the game after a 22-yard punt return from Ainias Smith. The Aggies would methodically run the ball with Smith (eight-consecutive carries for 38 yards) as A&M killed the clock.
The Aggie defense held the home team to just 98 yards of offense in the first half, and A&M pass rushers repeatedly got to Costello, picking up four sacks through 30 minutes. In total, the Ags sacked Mississippi State quarterbacks six times and held Mike Leach’s offense to just 219 yards through the air.
Facing Mississippi State’s strong defense, Kellen Mond and the Aggie offense had their own issues, mainly in the passing game. In the first half, A&M only had 123 yards of offense, 90 of which came on the ground.
It wasn’t until A&M’s third drive that they finally cracked the scoreboard as they utilized Isaiah Spiller and their strong ground game. On that drive alone, Spiller carried the ball six times for 49 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
The Bulldogs subsequently went three-and-out, a short series punctuated by an Aaron Hansford sack on third down.
Texas A&M’s special teams unit came up large as Chris Russell blocked a punt. A&M would take over at the Mississippi State 1-yard line, and wasted no time as Spiller punched it in to push the score to 14-0. The A&M touchdowns came just 90 seconds apart.
A&M’s pass rush did not make life easy for K.J. Costello as the Aggies sacked him five times.
Self-inflicted wounds prevented the Aggies from putting the Bulldogs away in the first half. A&M was penalized five times (officially) for 40 yards. Perhaps the key error came from Leon O’Neal, who was flagged for leaping over the punt shield, allowing State to maintain possession.
To begin the second half, a fluke play led to a pick-six for Mississippi State’s first touchdown of the day. Mond targeted Smith on third down, but the pass was deflected off of a defender’s helmet. It ricocheted about 10 yards backward, right into to waiting arms of Emmanuel Forbes, who ran 60 yards to the house, cutting A&M’s lead in half.
The Aggies answered immediately on the ensuing possession. On just the fourth play of the drive, Mond connected with Chase Lane for a 51-yard catch-and-run to the endzone as Lane narrowly outran three State defenders to the goal line, making it 21-7.
On State’s next possession, Buddy Johnson would get to Costello, registering A&M’s fifth sack of the day and forcing a fumble in the process. Peevy would scoop up the ball and return it to Mississippi State’s 8-yard line. Two plays later, Mond would toss to Smith for a 6-yard touchdown.
The 28-14 final doesn’t necessarily showcase how dominating the Aggies were on Saturday. Texas A&M’s defense actually pushed Mississippi State’s ground game backward for -2 yards. Thirty-nine percent (85 of 217 yards) of the Bulldogs’ offense game in the game’s final stanza.
RUMBLED: Texas A&M’s pass rush had managed just four sacks through the first three games. The Aggies dropped State quarterbacks six times on Saturday (Costello five times and Rogers once). DeMarvin Leal, Jayden Peevy, Buddy Johnson, Brian Williams and Aaron Hansford each registered a full sack, while Micheal Clemons and Tyree Johnson combined for another.
STUMBLED: Mississippi State’s offense struggled for most of the day, only producing 217 yards and just 7 points. State amassed 85 of their yards in the fourth quarter.
UNSUNG HERO(ES): Texas A&M’s offensive line wasn’t perfect, but the Maroon Goons did not allow a sack on the afternoon. In fact, Mississippi State did not have a single tackle for loss.
TURNING POINT: Chris Russell blocked a punt to set up A&M’s second score, making it 14-0 early in the second quarter.
KEY STAT: Third down inefficiency on the Aggies’ part kept State in the ballgame. A&M converted just four of ten third-down opportunities.
A&M: 14:57 – Isaiah Spiller 3-yard touchdown run. Drive: 8 plays, 65 yards. TOP: 4:16. Texas A&M 7, Mississippi State 0.
A&M: 13:27 – Isaiah Spiller 1-yard touchdown run. Drive: 1 play, 1 yard. TOP: 0:04. Texas A&M 14, Mississippi State 0.
MSU: 11:38 – Emmanuel Forbes 60-yard interception return for a touchdown. Texas A&M 14, Mississippi State 7.
A&M: 10:05 – Kellen Mond 51-yard touchdown pass to Chase Lane. Drive: 4 plays, 75 yards. TOP: 1:33. Texas A&M 21, Mississippi State 7.
A&M: 8:39 – Kellen Mond 6-yard touchdown pass to Ainias Smith. Drive: 2 plays, 8 yards. TOP: 0:46. Texas A&M 28, Mississippi State 7.
MSU: 11:11 – Will Rogers 32-yard touchdown pass to Malik Heath. Drive: 13 plays, 89 yards. TOP: 6:00. Texas A&M 28, Mississippi State 14.