Few teams had a better weekend than Texas A&M this past Saturday. Not only did the Aggies beat third-ranked Florida; they watched LSU lose and Auburn look terrible against Arkansas.
By Matt Zemek
Not only did they score 41 points; quarterback Kellen Mond played an excellent game, which is what AggieLand has been waiting to see for a long time. If we are able to play bowl games this winter, Texas A&M – though obviously not nearly as good as Alabama – could legitimately snag a New Year’s Six bowl slot. Second place in the SEC West looks very realistic now, more than at any prior point in Jimbo Fisher’s tenure.
However, in order for Texas A&M to reach those two goals – an NY6 bowl and second place in the SEC West – this upcoming game at Mississippi State is a must-win. This would have been true if MSU had thumped Kentucky and Arkansas the past two weeks, but it’s just as true now that the Bulldogs have fallen to 1-2 in the SEC.
This is a game where A&M has to go into the Magnolia State and ruthlessly take care of business. A team which barely beat Vanderbilt at home has certainly come a long way since then, but that close scrape against the Commodores reinforces why Aggie fans shouldn’t take this MSU road trip for granted.
Let’s look at the game keys:
1 – Mond-Day Afternoon
The win over Florida began on “Mond Day morning,” at 11 a.m. in College Station, but this game starts at 3 p.m. in Starkville. Kellen Mond needs to carry his rhythm and precision from the Florida win into this game. He has occasionally played brilliant football at A&M, but he has not consistently displayed his best side. It is so crucial for the Aggies and Jimbo Fisher that Mond learns how to maintain a high level of play from week to week. MSU is not a heavyweight team, but if Mond produces another crisp performance, the Aggies will begin to believe they can put together a great season.
2 – Pass Rush
Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello has struggled mightily the past two weeks after torching LSU in the season opener. Texas A&M can cause Costello to wobble if it can get home with the pass rush. If it doesn’t, Costello and Mike Leach could bust out a big game for the Bulldogs. Remember this about Mike Leach offenses: They are capable of masterpieces and stink-bombs alike, but just when you think they’re headed in one direction, they reverse course. The past two weeks, that reversal was negative for MSU, but a rebound performance could emerge this week. A pass rush from a weak defense which played poorly against Florida is the preventive measure the Aggies can use to keep Costello in a funk.
3 – Third downs
We said third and fourth downs would be vital against Florida. They were. The Aggies’ ability to convert 12 of 15 third downs won the game for them. Staying on schedule and then converting manageable third-down situations simultaneously rest a flawed defense and feed Mond’s confidence. It’s a hinge-point element of the Aggies’ offense… and their entire season.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 3:00 PM CT (4:00 PM ET). Watch on the SEC Network.