Nr. 11 Texas A&M (3-1) eliminated the Bulldogs (1-3) 28-14 Saturday afternoon, hitting the home team with 186 yards rushing and 6 sacks while holding the home team to -2 yards rushing. Mississippi State mustered just 217 yards of offense and a single offensive touchdown.
None of the teams scored in the first quarter, but the pace of the game was already fixed. A & M’s running game, led by Isaiah Player (18 carries, 114 yards, 2 TDs), put 72 yards on the ground, while Mississippi State pointed twice and quarterback KJ Costello (15-22, 99 yards, 1 INT) threw a easy interception in the A&M end zone for a waiting cornerback Myles Jones on the drive in between.
The Aggies took command of the offense during their third run as they walked 66 yards on 8 plays ̵
“The emphasis all week was on running the ball,” offensive lineman Carson Green said. “We wanted to show that we could run on anyone.”
The Bulldogs went 3 and out on their next possession and the Aggies knew they needed to get the ball back, but they could not have gotten better field position. Linebacker Chris Russell broke through the Mississippi State line and blocked Tucker Day’s points, which were restored on Bulldog 1. A game later, Player had his second touchdown and the Aggies were 14-0.
A&M forced another very quick Mississippi State possession and looked like they were getting the ball in midfield after another point, but safety Leon O’Neal was called to a personal free kick to try to jump over the point shield and give the state the ball on their own 48.
“We got three penalties on a game,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “(O’Neal’s punishment) was just ridiculous. We could have scored there. ”
Instead, it was another 3 and out, with certainty that Brian Williams picked up the first sack of his career to finish the Mississippi State drive. The Bulldogs would get another shot on point in their last possession of the first half and reached A&M 26 before a sack of senior defensive line manager Jayden Peevy and an illegal block in the back pushed them out of the field goal area. The Aggies went into the locker room up 14-0 and got the opening kick in the second half and had doubled their total sack for the season by four – mostly with a three-man rush.
“The pass rush was in focus all week,” Peevy said. “We practiced (3-man front) well this week. Mike Elko had a great game plan against them. ”
A&M took the kickoff in the second half and pushed themselves down to Mississippi State 32 when the potential disaster struck. Quarterback Kellen Mond (13-23, 139 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) threw a pass that hit Ainias Smith’s shoulder pads and jumped all the way back to the line for scrimmage, where cornerback Emmanuel Forbes grabbed it and returned the bizarre wicket 60 yards for a touchdown.
“We had a nice drive,” Fisher said, “then we got a ricochet.”
In previous trips to Starkville, that kind of play was a turning point that led to a Bulldog race that pointed Aggies behind the 8-ball. This time, A&M immediately struck back. In just 4 games, the Aggies went 75 yards and pushed their lead back to 21-7 after widespread Chase Lane (2 catches, 70 yards, 1 TD), caught a low cross and ran all over the Mississippi State Defense for a 51 yard score.
“(It was) the drive I was really proud of,” Fisher said. “We just got back. We had two really good catches of Chase Lane and big throws from Kellen. ”
A&M would put the game out of reach shortly after linebacker Buddy Johnson and defensive Micheal Clemons combined to hit Costello, forcing a fumble that Peevy regained in Mississippi State 27 and rumbled 19 yards to 8.
“I was so close (to score),” Peevy said with a little regret later.
It does not mean anything; Mond hit Smith (5 catches, 20 yards, 1 TD; 10 passes, 52 yards) for a 6-yard touchdown pass two games later, extending the lead to 28-7. It would be curtains for Costello, who was replaced by novice quarterback Will Rogers. Rogers was far more efficient, finishing 15 of 18 passes on 120 yards and the first offensive touchdown the Bulldogs had scored in more than two games on foot, but A & M’s strong defense and running game stole any hope of a comeback.
The Aggies ended up running out of the final 5:06 of the game and pushing the Mississippi State defense around one last time for good goal. A&M ended up running the clock on the Bulldogs’ 1-yard line instead of trying to add their winning margin.
“We wanted to show we could run the ball so (Fisher) wouldn’t call pass play,” Green said. “We want to prove that we are a great team and people need to know our name.”
Fisher said the Aggies have a lot to improve on, but welcomed the final result.
“A 14-point win is a good win,” Fisher said. “Mississippi State has always been a tough place for us to play.”