Mississippi State is coming off a loss on the road at South Carolina after turning the ball over five times offensively leading to 24 points by the Gamecocks. The schedule doesn't get any easier this week as MSU goes back on the road to take on the 14th ranked team in the country, Texas A&M.
Who: #14 Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2) vs. Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3)
Where: College Station, Texas; Kyle Field
When: Saturday, November 9; 2:39 p.m., CBS
The Bulldogs have everything against them on this Saturday. Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans are two of the most explosive offensive play makers in college football today and they're likely playing their final game at Kyle Field with both probably bolting to the NFL after the season. The Aggies don't have much more to play for other than a good bowl game in January or a Heisman trophy for Manzil or Evans, but they would like to build on next season.
Dak Prescott was incredibly back at practice following his mother's funeral but it's unknown how big of an impact the death of his mother will play positively or negatively on his game. MSU is reeling off of its loss to South Carolina and will need all the help they can get later today if they are to win the ball game and help send the program to new heights.
Let's take a look at my three keys to victory for tonight's game.
Protect the Ball: I went ahead and just left this one in from last week because it was a huge reason the Bulldogs lost at USC. Take away the five turnovers that MSU had on the road and you can make a serious case that the Bulldogs could have won that game. Now that we know exactly what Prescott was going through at that time, there's probably a reason that he struggled so badly during the game and there's absolutely no reason to question that.
In this game, protecting the ball is key. Giving Manziel the football is always dangerous, but the Bulldogs have to make him earn the football and not just hand it over to the offense. No turnovers in this game and MSU is putting themselves in a good situation. On the flip side, MSU has to force turnovers. Manziel and his offense has shown that they're prone to giving the ball away as his game is pretty erratic. MSU has to take the ball away which is something they've struggled to do in the last few games only forcing zero turnovers in the last three games and just three in the last five. Get the ball, covert points and take care of it on your end.
Control the Clock: MSU comes in this week second in the conference in time of possession. Since Dan Mullen has been here, he's always run his offense to try and milk the clock and protect the football whether it be on the ground or in short passing situations. The Bulldogs have the opportunity to do that again today with their running game. A&M hasn't been the greatest against the run and they've been taken care of in their losses the last two years because of that very thing.
MSU needs a heavy dose of the read option and lots of carries to Ladarius Perkins, Josh Robinson, Nick Griffin and whoever else decides to step up to the plate. The longer MSU is on the field, the least opportunities Manziel has to put points on the board.
Get the Game to the Fourth Quarter : Texas A&M basically ended MSU's threat last season by the first quarter. The Bulldogs had a couple of quick possessions where they were stopped and A&M was off to the races as they would take a 28-0 advantage. By that point, MSU had absolutely no shot of winning the game.
A&M is going to try to get a fast start again Saturday as they usually do. MSU has to be ready to answer or throw the first punch depending on who receives the ball first. Auburn stayed in the ball game with the Aggies until the fourth quarter and took advantage of late mistakes to get the upset. The Bulldogs haven't played a full second half yet. Today is the day they need to do that.
Prediction: Once again, Mullen and his team is faced with a huge challenge. The Bulldogs simply haven't made it over the hump since he's been in Starkville and have yet to beat a top 15 team in his five years. MSU is picked by no one to upset the Aggies in this game and for good reason. MSU shouldn't be picked for an upset yet because they haven't proven they can do that. If they do that today, Mullen proves to the fan base and the country that he can win a big game. He needs a game like this to revive the fan base and rejuvenate the positive momentum that he's built in his four and a half years at the helm. If MSU gets down early they don't have much of a prayer. We'll see what happens later today.