Until recently, the Aggies had performed admirably on that side of the ball, posting much more respectable numbers than they had a season ago. Things indeed looked different.
"[We weren't] playing smart defense," linebacker Justin Bass said. "Just staying in your gap and having good eye control; it's as simple as that."
The question is, was Saturday an aberration or the beginning of a familiar trend?
Mississippi State is 5-0 for a reason. The Bulldogs, as Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin noted afterward, were efficient and had a solid game plan. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s ability to seamlessly run Dan Mullen’s spread-option offense -- with a dizzying array of read-option, designed quarterback draws and more -- is difficult for any defense to handle, and as much has been proven this season.
Add in running back Josh Robinson or the stable of other backs the Bulldogs have, as well as talented receivers and a big offensive line, and it becomes understandable why Mississippi State averages 541.8 offensive yards per game (12th in the nation).
However, the Aggies struggled in key areas Saturday that are points of emphasis for Sumlin and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, namely third downs. The Aggies allowed Mississippi State to convert five of its first six third-down attempts, and that doesn’t include the first third down of the game, which was a holding penalty on cornerback De'Vante Harris that extended a Mississippi State drive that could have ended in a three-and-out. On the next play, Robinson broke free for a 49-yard run that led to an eventual touchdown.
The third-down struggles appear to be a blip on the radar for Texas A&M, as the Aggies have otherwise been successful in that area. Going into Saturday’s game, the Aggies allowed third-down conversions at a 33.7 percent clip, good for 39th nationally. And the Aggies started the second half defensively getting back-to-back third-down stops, but Texas A&M’s offense wasn’t able to capitalize with points either time, leaving the Aggies trailing 28-10. They didn’t allow a third-down conversion in the second half.
The biggest area of concern Saturday was one that was an absolute headache in 2013: run defense. The Aggies allowed a whopping 280 rushing yards to the Bulldogs. The reasons varied from missed tackles to poor angles taken in pursuit, or simply a matter of Mississippi State’s offensive line winning the battle up front.
It was the second consecutive week the Aggies gave up a healthy dose of rushing yards. The previous week, Texas A&M allowed 285 rushing yards to Arkansas. Even if a 51-yard fake punt against A&M’s special teams is taken out of the equation, the Aggies have allowed an average of 257 rushing yards per game in the last two weeks against SEC opponents.
That’s a far cry from 124.75 rushing yards per game allowed in the first four games of the season before the Aggies faced the Razorbacks.
On Saturday, it didn’t help that the Aggies also struggled to cover the Bulldogs in the passing game. Prescott attacked the Texas A&M secondary, going 20-of-26 for 268 yards. The Aggies struggled to defend Prescott’s back-shoulder fade passes, which ate up chunks of yardage time after time.
Despite the poor performance Saturday and an up-and-down showing against Arkansas, the Aggies still have been better overall statistically than in 2013 (it’s hard not to be), when they were last in the SEC and in the bottom 30 nationally in most major defensive categories. Their ability to finish strong against the Razorbacks and get key stops in the second half and overtime appeared to be a sign of progress.
Saturday against Mississippi State was a different story. With two highly ranked opponents lined up for the next two weeks (No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 7 Alabama), the Aggies will have to bounce back from their showing in Starkville if they want to prove they are capable of being an effective SEC defense.
"We have to really correct some stuff that we've been letting slide so far," Bass said. "It is a wake-up call."
If the Aggies plan to be a real contender in the SEC West moving forward, they have to be much better defensively than they were Saturday.
Generally SEC teams build their football programs by recruiting the top high school prospects in the country. Sometimes, however, the prospects don’t have the grades to qualify, there are transfers from other programs, or they just slip through the cracks and try to go the junior college route instead of signing with a lower level school. With the debut of the 2015 Juco Watch List, the SEC has 17 prospects already committed who are on the list.
3. After watching their team upset Alabama at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, jubilant Ole Miss fans stormed the field to celebrate with their team. The same thing happened in Lexington after Kentucky shocked South Carolina. Personally, I love it. It's one thing that really sets the college game apart from its professional counterpart. But it cost Ole Miss $50,000 and Kentucky $25,000. However, I'm sure Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork and Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart won't mind the financial hit one bit.
- Despite losing to Florida, Tennessee's defense is progressing.
- Georgia coach Mark Richt said he might continue to use a two-quarterback system going forward.
- Drops plagued Texas A&M's receivers in the Aggies' blowout loss to Mississippi State.
- South Carolina is staggering into its bye week searching for answers.
For starters, there's a new SEC team headed to the playoff, and no, it's not Mississippi State or Ole Miss, though both are knocking on the door. It's Auburn, the league's defending champion, which played its best game of the season against LSU on Saturday.
The Tigers' in-state rival, Alabama, dropped from the No. 1 spot after its loss to Ole Miss, but Texas A&M took an even bigger fall after the Aggies were dominated at Mississippi State.
The lone team to fall out of our projections this week is Tennessee, which likely cost itself a bowl game with Saturday's 10-9 loss to Florida. The Volunteers are going to have a hard time winning four more games with the schedule they have remaining. Meanwhile, SEC East counterpart Kentucky made a big jump and needs just two wins to become bowl eligible.
Here is our full SEC list entering the seventh week of the season:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Auburn
Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State
Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Alabama
Citrus Bowl: Georgia
TaxSlayer Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Kentucky
Belk Bowl: Florida
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Arkansas
Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina
Using such a scale we can determine the “best” games of the week, in one of the wildest weeks of college football in recent memory.
Week 6 had five of the top eight game scores of the season.
Based solely on opponents’ FPI rank, Ole Miss’ win against Alabama was the best win of the season, but accounting for where the game was played and the winner’s average chance of winning throughout (aka dominance), a different game came out on top
Utah 30, (8) UCLA 28
Game Score: 97.1, Average win probability: 63 percent
Utah won at UCLA for the first time in seven tries and did so in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated. The Utes beat an AP Top 10 team on the road for the first time since 1961, thanks to 156 yards rushing from Devontae Booker.
Utah led by seven points at the end of the first quarter, 10 points at halftime and 10 again at the end of the third quarter. The Bruins led for 4 minutes, 34 seconds, on Eldridge Massington’s fourth-quarter touchdown catch.
(12) Mississippi State Bulldogs 48, (6) Texas A&M Aggies 31
Game Score: 96.7, Average win probability: 86 percent
Mississippi State led by multiple scores for nearly 40 minutes and rolled to a win over a team ranked sixth in the AP poll.
The Bulldogs have won eight straight games overall and have won multiple games against top-10 teams in one season for the first time in school history.
It marked the first time that Mississippi State won an SEC Top-15 matchup in six tries.
Dak Prescott tied his career high by being responsible for five touchdowns.
Arizona 31, (2) Oregon 24
Game Score: 96.4, Average win probability: 51 percent
Arizona pulled off an upset over the No. 2 Ducks in an extremely tight game, one in which the margin was within one score for nearly 57 of the 60 minutes.
Arizona has had a penchant to pull off big upsets over the last 10 seasons. The Wildcats have the third-most wins against AP Top 10 teams with seven, three coming against Oregon (2007, 2013 and 2014).
(25)TCU 37, (4) Oklahoma 33
Game Score: 95.5, Average Win Probability: 64 percent
TCU snapped Oklahoma’s eight-game winning streak in a game in which it trailed for 3 minutes, 12 seconds. TCU now has three wins over top-5 teams in the last five seasons, tied for the third most in that span.
The Horned Frogs are 7-7 versus AP Top-10 teams under Gary Patterson.
Trevone Boykin threw for 318 yards. He has two 300-yard games in four starts this season. He had one in 15 starts entering this season.
(5) Auburn 41, (15) LSU 7
Game Score: 94.8, Average Win Probability: 90 percent
Auburn picked up its 300th SEC win and racked up 566 yards of offense in a dominant win over LSU. It marked the school’s largest win ever against an AP Top-15 team.
The overwhelming nature of this win put it on the list. Auburn led by at least two scores for the final 52 minutes, 27 seconds.
Here are our picks for the top five and we’re letting you take a vote to tell us which of them you thought was the best of the weekend. Then we'll come back on Tuesday with a more in-depth look at the play you determined was the best of an insane week of SEC football.
Gurley goes deep
You knew he could run ... and catch ... and return kicks. Now you know that Todd Gurley can throw, too. On a nifty trick play, Hutson Mason moved in motion from under center, Gurley took a snap in the Wildcat formation, faked a handoff and threw a picturesque bomb to tight end Jeb Blazevich for a 50-yard gain. It was part of 337 yards of total offense from Gurley.
Golson seals the deal
Marshall to Coates for six
Auburn rolled over LSU on Saturday and the domination began early, as evidenced by Auburn’s first touchdown. Nick Marshall chucked one deep to Sammie Coates, who was covered well by LSU’s Rashard Robinson. It even appeared Robinson out-jumped Coates, but Coates somehow came up with the ball then forced his way into the end zone to complete the 56-yard scoring play. Impressive.
Noil shows his worth
Texas A&M got pummeled by Mississippi State but true freshman receiver Speedy Noil was one of the bright spots for the Aggies on Saturday. A five-star recruit out of New Orleans, Noil showed why he was so coveted by programs with the ability he displayed on this catch. Not only did he make a leaping grab near the sideline, but he got both feet down and had the presence of mind to reach the ball over the goal line, even though his body landed at the 1, to get the Aggies six points.
Wild call by the Wildcats
Kentucky had quite a night running the Wildcat formation in its 45-38 win over South Carolina, and this was a creative call by offensive coordinator Neal Brown. Similar to the Georgia play above, quarterback Patrick Towles left his customary spot and motioned to the left. Jojo Kemp took the direct snap and handed it off to Javess Blue, who gave it to Towles on a reverse. All the while, Ryan Timmons was sprinting behind an unsuspecting South Carolina defense, and Towles tossed the ball to him for an easy 48-yard touchdown.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi's Southeastern Conference teams have never been this good and this close.
Just about the only thing that didn't change this week was No. 1: Florida State is still top-ranked, with 35 first-place votes.
Auburn, the only other team in the top six to win, moved up three spots to No. 2 and received 23 first-place votes. Then came Ole Miss and Mississippi State, in the top five together for the first time after the Rebels beat Alabama and the Bulldogs beat Texas A&M on Saturday.
The Bulldogs received two first-place votes.
The Rebels haven't been ranked this high in a non-preseason AP Poll since 1963, when they also were No. 3 and won their last SEC title. The Bulldogs have their best ranking ever. Their previous best was No. 7 in 1981 and their only SEC championship came in 1941.
Between them, the Rebels and Bulldogs have won the SEC West just twice since the league split into two divisions in 1992.
"You've never arrived, but I think we've changed the culture," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Sunday. "And that was the goal coming in here, was we wanted to change the culture."
Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.
Sure, we learned about Georgia (Todd Gurley can do anything), Florida (Treon Harris should start) and Kentucky (these Cats are on to something). We even found out, once and for all, that South Carolina is a playoff fraud.
But in the end, it was in the West that we learned the most.
2. A Rebel yell: Ole Miss didn’t play well for the better part of three quarters. Bo Wallace was doing his usual Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing, and the running game was practically nonexistent. The missed face mask call that resulted in a fumble return for a touchdown right before halftime seemed like the type of play that would decide the game. Ole Miss would fold under its own disappointment, and Alabama would come out in the second half and pull away. But then Ole Miss grew up. It wasn’t three quarters of maturation from the Rebs on Saturday night; it was three decades' worth. What Hugh Freeze has done is completely change the way Ole Miss thinks of itself. We saw that against Alabama. Wallace didn’t beat himself up after a few early mistakes; he got right back in the saddle. The defense, which fought valiantly with little help, never gave up in the 23-17 win. And when Ole Miss absolutely needed a big play, it got it -- twice. Wallace threw a game-winning touchdown pass, and Senquez Golson followed that up with a game-clinching interception. In doing so, Ole Miss proved it belonged. It proved, despite what we might think about football in the Magnolia State, these guys really can play.
3. Alabama isn’t dead: Take the emotions of the game out of it. Let’s think about this like the College Football Playoff selection committee might. Alabama lost to a team ranked in the top 15. It lost on the road. And it lost in the final few minutes. It lost a game in which its quarterback had a subpar performance; its most explosive weapon on offense, Kenyan Drake, was knocked out of the game in brutal fashion; and two starters, linebacker Denzel Devall and center Ryan Kelly, were sidelined with injuries. If there’s such a thing as a quality loss, this was it. It’s not quite Michigan State losing at Oregon, given that Sparty put itself out there scheduling that game, but it’s close. That’s little consolation to Alabama right now, but in a few months, it might mean something. The SEC West is a bear. Who really thinks a team is going to survive the division undefeated? If Alabama can get better play from its offensive line and secondary, what’s to say the Tide can’t get right back in it? A loss at Ole Miss isn’t going to be enough to keep them out.
4. Aggies allergic to defense: In the words of Kevin Sumlin: “What?!” He ought to go up to every defensive player in the locker room and ask that question in a much more hostile tone than he’s become accustomed to. Because the Aggies have no defense, that’s what. Mark Snyder was supposed to coax some improvement out of a defense that was the worst in the SEC the past season, but that hasn’t happened. Players are too often out of position. Tackles too often go missed. Quality execution is too often a foreign concept. The excuse of inexperience has grown tiresome. Go look at the past few recruiting classes -- there’s talent there. It’s time Texas A&M takes a long, hard look in the mirror and decides what it wants to be. Because as out-of-sorts as Hill and the offense looked against Mississippi State on Saturday, they weren’t the problem. You have Myles Garrett. You have Deshazor Everett. It’s time you have some semblance of a defense.
5. And then there’s Auburn: No one is talking about Auburn, and that’s probably the way Gus Malzahn wants it. But week after week, the Tigers keep winning. Forget that Nick Marshall hasn’t become Joe Montana. Forget that the win at Kansas State wasn’t pretty. Forget it because it doesn’t matter. Style points mean nothing. If Saturday showed us anything, it’s that surviving is all that matters. Alabama wishes it could have done that. So do Oregon and Oklahoma. Auburn, for all its supposed flaws, is undefeated and in line to move into the top 3 in the polls. If you don’t think Auburn is good enough to win the West again, I don’t know what to tell you. LSU might not be the team we’ve become accustomed to in recent years, but it’s still LSU. All Auburn did was beat the Bayou Bengals like they stole something. The 41-7 win might not grab the headlines like Ole Miss' and Mississippi State's wins, but it counts the same.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- As the closing seconds dripped off Mississippi State’s two mammoth end zone scoreboards, a still packed Davis Wade Stadium erupted, and cowbells clanged.
Bulldogs players, still trying to grasp their dominating 48-31 win over No. 6 Texas A&M, rushed the student section and started what should be one heck of a party in Starkville.
Coach Dan Mullen carried his daughter.
“You never see this,” Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “Usually, games like this, the students are gone.”
Those fans stayed because they wanted to celebrate with a team that has now beaten Top-10 opponents in back-to-back games for the first time ever. They wanted to celebrate with a team that proved it deserves to be given SEC contender status.
It deserves some playoff talk, too.
“I’m proud of our guys, I’m proud of our team, I’m proud of the whole university,” said Mullen, who got choked up during his postgame news conference. “It is hard to win in the SEC.”
Mullen couldn’t help getting emotional. He just watched what most of the country watched: Utter dominance from a group of two- and three-star high school misfits.
With the college football universe descending on the state of Mississippi this weekend (No. 3 Alabama played at No. 11 Ole Miss), 12th-ranked Mississippi State proved to be a great opening act for the Magnolia State. It makes you wonder if the Bulldogs should have been the main event and if this team might be the best of a wild bunch in the SEC West.
“Pretty big statement -- Mississippi STATEment,” quarterback Dak Prescott said of the win.
It didn’t matter that starting center Dillon Day was out due to suspension and top wide receiver Jameon Lewis was down with a leg injury. You hardly noticed their absences. Outside of a beautiful opening drive, the Aggies didn’t look fit to be on the same field as the Bulldogs.
“It said that we can compete in the SEC West,” said running back Josh Robinson, who had a game-high 107 rushing yards and two touchdowns. “We can be one of the better teams.”
The Aggies certainly have their issues -- including catching the football -- but you can’t take anything away from Mississippi State’s performance. The offense was incredibly efficient, went 6-for-6 in the red zone and piled on 559 yards of offense.
Prescott was a surgeon with his passing and threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 77 yards and three scores.
The Bulldogs' defense frustrated Hill all day. It was aggressive; the Bulldogs dialed up the pressure to take the deep pass away and registered four sacks. The Aggies piled up 526 yards and 31 points, but this game was never in doubt after the Bulldogs went up three scores in the second quarter.
We wondered if Mississippi State, which has historically flamed out on the big stage, could win the big game when the spotlight was on. The Bulldogs have now won two of those games and should head into next week’s showdown with Auburn as a Top-10 opponent.
“We’re moving up the charts, so people know our names, but we’re not worried about them knowing it,” running back Brandon Holloway.
Oh, they’ll know it now.
The praise will be coming, but do the Bulldogs care?
“Recognition is awesome, but you kind of like being under the radar, honestly,” said offensive lineman Ben Beckwith, who filled in for Day at center. “I like going [into games] thinking the other teams are looking over us. You would think they wouldn’t be.”
People will be talking about the Bulldogs a little more now, and they should. When the defense is in sync with the offense like it was Saturday, this is as complete a team as there is in the SEC, and it looks like it’s only getting better.
“We don’t care what kind of attention we get," Robinson said. "Because at the end of the year, we should have a No. 1 next to our name."
What a way to start a big Saturday. No. 12 Mississippi State dominated No. 6 Texas A&M to the tune of 48-31 at Davis Wade Stadium to remain undefeated. The Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) were strong on both sides of the ball while the Aggies (5-1, 2-1) started fast but never seemed to get comfortable after that. Let's look at how it went down:
How the game was won: Mississippi State played terrific defense and harassed Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, sacking him twice and intercepting him three times. Offensively, quarterback Dak Prescott was flawless, scoring five TDs (three rushing, two passing) while compiling 347 offensive yards (259 passing, 77 rushing, 11 receiving).
Game ball goes to: Prescott. You could hand a game ball to a lot of guys (Richie Brown, who had three interceptions, or Benardrick McKinney and the Bulldogs’ front seven, who made life tough for Hill and bottled up A&M’s running game), but Prescott applied pressure on the Aggies by making great decisions and moving the offense down the field consistently, breaking the game open and taking the Bulldogs to a large lead that they wouldn't relinquish. He threw, he ran, he caught, he did it all.
What it means: The Bulldogs are legit (if the win at LSU didn’t already convince you). To not only beat but dominate a talented team like Texas A&M says a lot about where coach Dan Mullen has the Mississippi State program headed. It's a force to be reckoned with in the SEC West and appears to be taking that “next big step” that folks have been waiting for. Meanwhile, the Aggies look like a flawed team with a lot of work to do, especially defensively.
Playoff implication: Mississippi State is in the College Football Playoff conversation now. With big wins over LSU and Texas A&M, look for the Bulldogs to move into the top 10 of the national rankings. The schedule doesn’t get much easier, but the Bulldogs are in a great spot right now. Texas A&M, on the other hand, probably has to run the table the rest of the way to have a shot at sneaking in. That's asking a lot, considering the Aggies still have Alabama, Auburn and LSU on the schedule.
Best play: The best individual play belongs to Speedy Noil, but this is the play that pretty much erased remaining hope for the Aggies, who were down 17 before Prescott found Fred Brown for a 51-yard score:
What's next: Another huge test for Mississippi State awaits, as No. 5 Auburn makes its way to Davis Wade Stadium next week. Texas A&M doesn’t get much time to regroup as it must return home to Kyle Field to take on Ole Miss.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes, added three Tebow-style TD runs, and No. 12 Mississippi State overwhelmed No. 6 Texas A&M 48-31 on Saturday as a new contender emerged in the SEC West.
The Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) jumped out to a 28-7 lead in the first half and never let Kenny Hill and the high-scoring Aggies (5-1, 2-1) get close enough to threaten the lead -- or quiet the Bulldogs fans and their clanging cowbells at Davis Wade Stadium.
Hill threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns, but was picked off three times by linebacker Richie Brown, who matched a school record.
Prescott first plowed into the end zone for two short TDs and pretty much sealed the deal for the Bulldogs with an 11-yard quarterback draw to make it 48-17 in the fourth quarter. The junior finished 19 for 25 for 264 yards and ran for 77 yards.
Sumlin sees similarities with LSU
12:00 PM ET South Carolina 21 Clemson 12:00 PM ET 16 Georgia Tech 9 Georgia 12:00 PM ET Kentucky 22 Louisville 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Florida State 3:30 PM ET 4 Mississippi State 19 Ole Miss 4:00 PM ET Tennessee Vanderbilt 7:45 PM ET 15 Auburn 1 Alabama