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Fun With Numbers: Mississippi State

Previewing the matchup with the bulldogs with advanced stats

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NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Fun With Numbers. If you’re looking for a weekly statistical breakdown of the Aggie Football squad, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for something funny and insightful… check a few doors down.

As always, let’s remember that it’s still fairly early in the season, and some of the numbers we look at here are going to jump and shift quite a bit in the next few weeks. The halfway mark is usually when things start to settle down a little more. I am unusually pressed for time in my real life, so we’ll keep this short and sweet. Let’s dive in.

How’d we do last week?

Texas A&M survived a wild game against the Razorbacks this last weekend at Jerry World, something we’re all too familiar with at this point. They did it riding the back of Achane (averaged nearly eight yards per touch/target), a defense that once again stepped up in the red zone, and a little bit of luck. We might need to get used to that. Revel in this 10 out of 11 wins with me real quick if you can.

OK. Onto the next one.

What do we know?

The Aggies embark on their first true road game of the season, journeying to the land of cowbells and trying to extend this two game win streak. The Bulldogs are 3-1 as well this season, the loss coming at the hands of LSU in a matchup that State had the lead in until late in the 4th quarter, when the Tigers ripped off 21 points to win 31-16. Vegas, the SP+, and the FEI all like the Bulldogs here, anywhere from a pick ’em to a four-point win. Let’s take a closer look.

Aggie offense vs Bulldog defense

It doesn’t look great, but until the Aggies string together a couple of games worth of drives like what we saw in the 2nd and 3rd quarter against Arkansas, almost any defense is going to be showing the upper hand in these charts. And Mississippi State isn’t just any defense, they’re an experienced unit in the front seven, and brought in a handful of transfers to secure things in the secondary this season. They’re also extremely well coached by Zach Arnett, who has done nothing but improve this unit since his arrival in Starkville. Sounds vaguely familiar right? Not all that different from the Arkansas unit the Aggies faced last week. The Bulldogs defense is better at preventing big plays than the Hogs, but don’t create as much Havoc. Still, they’re not amazing against the run, and the Aggie OL continues to improve in its ability to open up lanes for Devon Achane. The Aggies will obviously be missing Ainias Smith as a player and a leader for this offense still trying to find its way, but maybe that brutal blow can be softened if young guys like Evan Stewart, Donovan Green and Yulkeith Brown can continue to shine.

Aggie defense vs Bulldog offense

The State offense looks pretty similar to how it did last year, even returning QB Will Rogers and a ton of his weapons. They are super efficient, particularly in the passing game, but don’t hit on a lot of big plays. They stay ahead of the chains, only finding themselves in passing downs on 23% of plays (6th in the country), and Rogers has only turned the ball over three times (not bad considering that’s on 189 passing attempts). They’ve been good, but they only looked “OK” against the only real defense they’ve faced this season (LSU- 14th in the SP+, the other three opponents are all outside the Top 90). The Tigers found a way to get pressure on the QB (getting home on four sacks), limited big plays, and trusted that if the secondary played well enough, the Bulldogs would struggle to string together consistent drives. It seemed to work, and it’s probably not far from the blueprint Durkin will use this weekend.

Special teams

There’s little to note here, the Bulldogs have two punters both averaging over 43 yards/punt and a fairly dangerous return game. The Aggie kicking game is still a little wonky, and someone will have to fill in for Smith on punt returns going forward.

So what’s the verdict?

We’re still in a wait-and-see stage with the Aggie offense, but we know this defense can keep us in games until they finally break down from being on the field for 55+ plays. If the Aggies can find a way to run the ball early, including some runs from Max (Jayden Daniels scrambled for nearly 100 yards against this defense), while the defense is able to prevent Rogers from getting in a rhythm, it’s easy to see a path towards an underdog win for the Aggies. But if the offense can’t get going, and the defense starts breaking down (short, easy routes start turning into big gains), it could get ugly, especially on the road. The Aggies got dangerously close to that situation last week with the Hogs. It may be even tougher to dig your way out of that hole in a true hostile environment.

My prediction: I’ve been worried about this game long before the season started. Leach teams with loads of experience are scary, and the fact that it’s the first true road game for a relatively young team, and it’s not like A&M has some grand history of playing well against the Mississippi schools, even in Jimbo’s tenure. That said, I love what this Aggie defense is capable of and while I’ve given up hope of any sort of “offensive explosion” for the time being, I still think this team is going to start running the ball a lot better. I think the Aggies win ugly (again), 20-17, thanks to the experienced hand of Max Johnson and a lot of Achane.

Final notes

Thanks again for reading Fun With Numbers. Check out these links below if you’re interested in learning more about advanced stats in college football.

  • for a solid compilation of all things related to football analytics.
  • for Brian Fremeau’s FEI data and other fun projects from him.
  • is the home for all of Bill Connelly’s SP+ info (as well as the FPI rankings). You’ll need to subscribe to ESPN+ for most of his stuff these days.
  • is a great site for data and charts that you can download and play with on your own time, in case Fun With Numbers isn’t filling that statistical void in your life. Most of my data comes from here.
  • SEC Stat Cat is another great site. Solid blend of statistics and football concepts.

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? You know where to leave ‘em.