Three touchdowns. The final differential. Even with the clunking, patchwork offense spitting out black clouds of oily smoke all evening, this game—thanks to the overburdened defense— never really seemed completely out of reach. Until, all of a sudden, it was. There’s that magical convergence of point deficit, time on the clock, and attitude of the team that all combines to form some threshold; a cutoff point where you know there’s no return once you slip past it.
Last night, it was probably that 90-yard pick six thrown by Nick Starkel. Yes, that was probably the final nail. Instead of cutting it to 28-14 with a faint glimmer of hope, it’s suddenly 35-7 and the world is flat with despair. The collective wind left all of us: Aggies on the field of play, Aggies in the stadium, Aggies watching at home, Aggies just anywhere in the world could sense that disturbance in the universe and knew: we’d blown another game we should’ve won.
The season’s not over. There’s still a bigger picture. But it just got MUCH harder to envision a scenario where this year ends with a functioning, formidable football team and a consensus of satisfied parties. This game turned the rest of the season into damage control, and for that reason, it was even worse than the truly paltry numbers could ever represent.
But we’ll run through a few of them anyway.
It’s a fine line to walk between dogpiling on this frustrating offense and trying to be objective and see the big picture. Mississippi State’s defense is actually pretty damn good. They’re not “beat-A&M-by-21-at-Kyle” good. Probably not even “hold Christian Kirk to 5 catches for 30ish yards” good. But they’re in the top 10 in the country and this was never going to be easy. After the early pick by Alaka the offense actually (surprisingly?) came out aggressively. Mond overthrew an open Kirk for an easy touchdown, and then Damion Ratley dropped an easy TD on the very next play. Was that actually the tipping point? When we failed to take advantage of the free chance at points, did the team clam up and hang their heads? That’s what last years’ team would’ve done in rough, physical, hard-fought games. That’s what we’d thought (or hoped) wouldn’t happen this year. Maybe they weren’t quite as far distanced from soft as we’d imagined.
Mond went 8/26 passing. That’s a good percentage. For baseball.
Starkel came in and doubled the offensive output in garbage time. Then he threw a 90-yard pick six.
Ford had fewer than 10 carries. Williams had 10 exactly. About half of his 32 yards came on one play.
Mond had 2 interceptions. At least one of them should have been a long gain for A&M.
Drops were a glaring issue.
Kirk’s longest reception was 11 yards. His longest play was a punt return late in the game where he just tried to make something happen.
Mond was just a half-beat slow in throwing the ball, and at pulling it down and taking off upfield when there was no one open and it led to multiple sacks. He’d been showing consistent progress in each game this season that we did not really see last night.
The entire offense was just out of rhythm, off kilter like an engine with a couple of loose belts, a radiator with a leak, brittle battery cables, and an old birds nest on fire in the pistons. It’s amazing it even got driving from time to time. It’s like if Mond is the kid trying to look cool, cruise around and show off his car, instead he’s being forced to get out and push it frequently down the main drag as white smoke billows out of the hood while all the other kids laugh their asses off.
In conclusion, the offense did not do well.
The defense, old familiar story, acquitted themselves adequately. They played very well at times and were asked to do far too much, but they did struggle with Fitzgerald. Like everyone else does.
Dodson, Alaka, and Watts got their tackles. They combined for 30. Sacks were down from the team’s average (2) and so were TFLs (5). This is mostly because Nick Fitzgerald is 8 feet tall, weighs approximately 439 pounds, and has the speed of an ostrich once he gets three full strides on a straight path. Ostriches are very fast, in case you weren’t aware. For the most part, the front seven did a good job of bottling up the inside runs, but those few times Nicky F got outside, it was enough to cause damage.
And his passing was pinpoint and timed well. Oh, and also that one time we failed to even cover the enormous tight end. One day perhaps we’ll incorporate the notion of covering large men in the passing game because we’ll finally concede they may actually be eligible pass receivers as well.
So the defense held MSU to 369 in total offense. We’ve come a long way** since the days when that would have been an almost guaranteed win in the SEC with our offenses.
**long way = about 3 years.
Well, they say offense wins games and defense wins championships, but if your defense can’t even salvage your offense and games are right back off the table, isn’t the championship thing a bit unrealistic? Is there some other adage that we can plug into that will just help us win some games, not necessarily even championships?
Or maybe we’ve found some weird and perfect balance in the college football world: mythically lurching to perennial 8-5 finishes with all these numbers that make little to no sense. Perpetually balancing on a precipice that is always one or two offensive series away from another gritty win on one edge and a display of utter futility and self-implosion on the other. We know which one last night was.
Let’s have a fun Auburn week, eh?