Mississippi State football drops third straight in loss to Texas A&M

Mississippi State football

I think it’s safe to say the SEC has figured out the air raid offense. Mississippi State football dropped its third straight game in a loss against the No. 11 Texas A&M Aggies in a 28-14 loss. For the Aggies, it’s their first win in Starkville since joining the SEC in 2012.

“Just proud of our guys getting a win on the road in the SEC,” said Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher postgame. “A 14-point win is a good win…thought our defense was outstanding on the day.”

The Aggie defense was certainly outstanding, holding the Bulldogs to negative two rushing yards thanks to six sacks. Three Mississippi State turnovers, including a blocked punt, helped set up Texas A&M in great field position all day.

It’s Will Rogers time

I don’t think anybody thought we would be saying that it’s time to bench K.J. Costello just three weeks after his historic performance against LSU, but it’s time for Mike Leach to start looking toward the future.

Costello started the game by throwing his FBS-leading 10th interception of the season in the end zone to cornerback Myles Jones, and it didn’t get much better after. He finished with just 99 yards on 15 completions and fumbled another ball way leading to an A&M touchdown. Costello is now second in FBS with 14 turnovers.

Costello was pulled in favor of true freshman Will Rogers at the 8:39 mark in the third quarter, and the more mobile Rodgers added a little spark to the offense. His mobility allowed himself to get out of the pocket, only getting sacked once, to make some nice throws in the face of a just relentless Texas A&M pass rush.

Rogers threw his first career touchdown with the Bulldogs in a beautiful 32-yard strike to Malik Heath in the fourth quarter. The Rodgers to Heath touchdown was the first Mississippi State offensive points scored in eight quarters and over 110 minutes of game time. Most of that time was with Costello under center.

“That drive that Will had, when you consider the quality of team A&M has, that drive Will had was maybe as good as I’ve had a freshman, especially a true freshman at his age, have before,” Leach said postgame.

The offense certainly looked more effective with Rodgers at quarterback, and you can expect to see Leach trotting out Rogers from here on out. Rogers finished 15 for 18 for 120 yards and one touchdown.

Mississippi State’s O-Line plain stinks

Stinks may be an understatement actually, the worst unit on the Mississippi State football team is more accurate. Leach was a little nicer in his assessment after the game.

“I thought we didn’t play well on the offensive line,” Leach said.

The offensive line went through quite a few changes pregame. LaQuinston Sharp got the start at left guard, James Jackson started at center, and Greg Eiland moved to right tackle. These changes did nothing to help give Costello and Rodgers more time to throw.

A&M’s pass rush was relentless all game finishing with six sacks. It didn’t matter if it rushed three or blitzed as it practically got pressure on the quarterback every single play. There were consistently three-man rushes where the Mississippi State guards didn’t block a single defender. Leach said after the game that the offensive line problems were “mental.”

Having to throw against eight defenders dropping in coverage is already hard enough but getting hit on a three-man rush every play makes it almost impossible. The offensive line has to play better or else it’s going to be a long season for Costello and Rodgers.

The defense needs help

Mississippi State’s defense came into the game with the fifth-best run defense in FBS and the second-best pass defense in the conference, and it once again was the only reason the Bulldogs even had a shot.

Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller did have a great game on the ground rushing for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, but overall the points A&M scored were mainly in part due to Mississippi State turnovers. The blocked punt was recovered inside the 10-yard line leading to a Spiller touchdown, and the Costello fumble led to a six-yard touchdown from Kellen Mond to Ainias Smith.

Once again Mississippi State’s defense made the biggest play of the game for the Bulldogs when freshman cornerback Emmanuel Forbes intercepted Mond off a deflection and returned it to the house for a pick-six in the third quarter. Forbes has two interceptions on the season and the freshmen got his first career start against the Aggies.

Unfortunately, the interception was really the only big play made by the defense as the conference leaders in sacks never got to Mond. Texas A&M’s impressive offensive line play continued against the Bulldogs as it has only given up two sacks all season, the third fewest in FBS.

The defense had an off game overall but still kept it close until the final whistle. This is a storyline that is becoming too recognizable for Bulldog fans, and the offense will have to help the defense out if Mississippi State wants to climb out of its losing streak.

Has Leach lost the locker room?

If you didn’t notice, Mississippi State All-American running back Kylin Hill did not suit up against Texas A&M. The announcement was made just an hour before kickoff.

Leach said the suspension was due to “actions and reactions” that took place in the locker room following last week’s loss at Kentucky. The specifics of what took place are still currently unknown.

The fact that a player of Hill’s caliber would be suspended for the A&M game means whatever he did must’ve been pretty bad to warrant this punishment. This could also be a sign of the decline of support for Leach’s system in the locker room.

It would be hard to fault Hill for being upset with Leach’s system. Leach convinced Hill to return to Mississippi State after leading the SEC with 1,350 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last year. So far this season, Hill has only rushed the ball 15 times for 58 yards. He has been used more as a receiver but this still cannot be the type of production Hill was expecting coming into the season.

If star players like Hill begin to openly call out Leach’s system in the locker room, other players could follow in dissent, starting a very dangerous downward spiral for the Mississippi State football team.

What’s next?

Mississippi State football is off next week on a much-needed bye. Leach said the starting quarterback spot “will be evaluated” during the bye.

If I had to make a prediction, I would expect Rogers to come out on top and make his first career start against Alabama in the next game.

Photo courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications