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The Mississippi State Game Will Be Closer Than You Think

Brent Musburger will be on the call for Saturday night's game against Mississippi State. If Brent just happened to be a betting man, whose side do you think he'd be on? The smart money is on the Bulldogs.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Is anybody else just fascinated by the matchup we are going to see at Kyle Field on Saturday night? I can't wait. In my eyes, this is going to be one of the better games on the Texas A&M schedule. It's an encounter between two SEC West programs that see an opportunity to make a surge to the top while traditional powers Auburn and Alabama appear to be down. The winner of this game has a great shot at finishing in the top 3 of the division, and is ready to go to battle with Ole Miss, LSU and Alabama for a shot to play in Atlanta. But one of these two will be culled on Saturday night. Do you feel good about this game? Should you feel good about this game?

I'm here to tell you that this will be another game that will test the cardiac health of many of the Texas A&M faithful.

Where Vegas Stands

Over the last year I've begun to really pay attention to what the sportsbooks are saying in terms of game lines and over/unders to try and spot trends. When the line for this game was initially posted on Sunday afternoon, the Aggies found themselves as a 6.5 point favorite over Mississippi State. The public liked the Aggies at that price, and the line quickly jumped to 7.5, before settling with the Aggies as 7 point favorites. Since then, Texas A&M has dropped to 6.5 point favorites (the original opening line). 


Source: TheSpread

What can we say about this? The collective public likes Texas A&M in this game, but aren't willing to take A&M by more than a touchdown. I personally wouldn't trust this Texas A&M group either, especially when you start to count the major letdowns at Kyle Field in the Sumlin era thus far.

Reading Between the Stats

Just like advanced stats have taken over both baseball and basketball, advanced stats are finally finding their way into the football realm. Unfortunately, the stats are still somewhat limited for us college football fans, as most of the attention is focused on the pro game. But here are some to wrap your mind around.

The Mississippi State Defense
Category S&P+ National Rank
Overall 27.0 52
Against the Run 113.7 40
Against the Pass 108.0 52
On Standard Downs 101.9 61
On Passing Downs 147.4 15
Against Explosive Plays 120.6 32
Source: FootballOutsiders

The Aggie offense against the Mississippi State defense is the premier matchup in this game. Looking over the stats, an interesting pictures emerges. If I were Jake Spavital, I'd see the best place to attack the Mississippi State defense is on 1st Down. Do not put yourself into 2nd-and-longs and 3rd-and-longs, because that is where their defense has played best this season (albeit the putrid LSU and Auburn passing offenses certainly factor into that ranking).

Here's the issue for A&M -- they are not really a good 1st down offense. The Aggies haven't been able to establish a consistent running game all season long with the offensive line's and Tra Carson's issues. Just take mattywatty01's success rates from the Arkansas game -- 41% successful on designed run plays, with an average of 4.1 yards gained. That's not optimal to put it nicely, and actually shifts the matchup in favor of Mississippi State, as the Aggie offense is pretty much always in "passing down" mode. What about Christian Kirk, who has been targeted on 25% of Texas A&M's passing plays on the season, bailing out the offense again? The Bulldogs rank 32nd in the country against "explosive" plays.

Starting to see how the stats lean towards Mississippi State?

The Game Plan

So how would you construct a gameplan against Mississippi State? You won't like this.

Bring back the horizontal passing game.

Hear me out. We need to take some pressure off Kyle Allen and the pass blocking. Without some creativity from the offensive staff last week, the group might have been sunk against an average-at-best Arkansas defense. One thing I did take away from last week's game was that our wide receivers sold out on run blocking. They've always been one of the better units in that category. Instead of trying to force something on the ground with Tra Carson, use that strength to our advantage and force-feed Christian Kirk, letting him work his magic in space. Force the Bulldogs to play in space and take away the weakness in the trenches, which they can dominate. Once Mississippi State starts to commit to limiting the horizontal passing, hit them over the middle with Ricky Seals-Jones. Jake Spavital loves that series of playcalling and deployed it numerous times in 2014. I've yet to see it in 2015. This is also the same type of gameplan the Aggies brought to Starkville in 2012, and that worked out pretty well.

Too Close For Comfort

One thing is for certain. We should respect the team Dan Mullen is bringing into Kyle Field. Even Kevin Sumlin played them up in his weekly press conference, which should raise some eyebrows. If this Texas A&M program is ready to take that next step, this is a game they should win. They are more talented than Mississippi State and are playing in front of 100,000+ of their own. But this is an SEC-grind game that will be new to a lot of the Texas A&M role players. They're in good position to survive and advance, but this could be another "growing pains" game, just like Arkansas a week ago.