Bulldog Scouting Report – Texas A&M

The Game: Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3 SEC) goes from one end of the conference all the way to the other, visiting #11 Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2). Kickoff at Kyle Field is 2:30 for CBS telecast. The MSU Network pregame begins at 12:30.

*Mississippi State is winless in three games away from home. The last Bulldog road victory was at Kentucky in October 2012, seven games ago.

*The Bulldogs are also looking for their first Western Division win of this season. Coach Dan Mullen is 5-18 against West teams in five seasons with State, but 9-4 against Eastern squads.

*State's last win over a ranked opponent was at #22 Florida, also in 2010. In five seasons Mullen's teams are 2-20 against ranked (A.P.) teams, 0-3 this year.

*Mullen now has 33 wins at Mississippi State, fourth-most by any Bulldog coach. He needs four more victories to tie Emory Bellard (1979-85) for third at 37.

*These Bulldogs have four chances to win at least two more times and secure bowl eligibility for a record fourth-straight season. The current streak of 2010-11-12 matches the 1998-99-00 stretch for most consecutive bowl teams.

*These programs share the same colors and the same cow college legacy. But they've met only six times in 100 years with a 3-3 split so far, and just two of the games have been modern era. State won the 2000 Independence Bowl in Shreveport; then last November A&M came to campus for the first time and as a SEC team to win.

*This is State's first appearance at Kyle Field, where the Aggies are holding their senior day this week as well as going for a 700th all-time program victory.

*State last won a game west of the Mississippi River in 2010, at Houston. Before that it was in 2005 playing Tulane in Shreveport.

*Two former Aggie coaches, Emory Bellard (1979-85) and Jackie Sherrill (1991-03) have moved on to become MSU coaches.

The Opponent: Some still want to see him as an overnight sensation. But Kevin Sumlin, who turns 50 next April, put in his years getting to this lofty position. None at a level below D-I it needs noting. Still it took five assistant stints, including at A&M in 2001-02, before hiring at Houston. 24 wins in four years later, the Aggies brought him back and handed him a richer roster than even they realized. Sure, he's always had a top-flight quarterback and other excellent talent. Somebody had to develop them into world-beaters and Sumlin has done exactly that, so far. The Aggies won't win the SEC this season either and only time will show if his recruiting matches his coaching. But then, does anyone really want to bet against him at this point?

Offense: First in yardage. First in passing. First in scoring. So what else needs saying statistically? Only that those top-SEC rankings are all in league games, not just overall and padded against lightweight victims. And the only reason the Aggies don't have the most first downs in the league is they score too freaking fast and from far away. Not even Oregon owns an eight-game streak of 500 yards gained, or a 12-game tear of 40 or more points. OK, enough numbers. The names stand on their own anyway. It's hard to remember that a year ago at this time Johnny Manziel was still more novelty than legend; that changed in a marvelous November that earned him the first freshman Heisman Trophy. Now he's got 14 500-yard games to his credit and is four TD passes already from the school record of 30…as a sophomore. If his yards weren't ridiculous enough, or 26 touchdowns against just eight interceptions this season, here's the truly obscene stat: Manziel has completed 83% of fourth quarter passes, when not running for first downs and touchdowns himself. Yet another Aggie is now topping a SEC chart, as soph WR Mike Evans has a league-leading 1147 yards and 12 TDs as Manziel's preferred target. 279 of those yards came against Alabama by the way. Enough said. Oh, alright, how about a 22-yard average gain per grab? But double-coverage is mostly moot as WR Malcolme Kennedy has 47 grabs and five scores himself, and 11 total targets have caught at least one touchdown. And it isn't like RB Ben Malena gets bored watching quarterback keepers. The senior has 8 TDs and 5.1 yards per-carry, while sophs Trey Williams and Tra Carson have five scores apiece afoot. One All-America tackle was lost to a first-round NFL drafting last spring, and LT Jake Matthews will follow that lead this coming draft. He's starting his 43rd game Saturday, whole LG Jarvis Harrison has 27 starts so far and guard-turned-RT Cedric Ogbuehi 26. The ‘maroon goons' don't have to hold their blocks long either. Here's a great example of how some stats are useless: A&M is just 10th in SEC red zone ‘efficiency' but has scored more touchdowns, 50 of ‘em, than anyone in the country within the 20. As the old Russian said, quantity is quality sometimes.

Defense: Yeah, yeah, the ‘best defense is…' and all that. And there is much to be said for a unit that can watch their cohorts pile up points and provide plenty margin for error. Still the Aggie defense isn't quite the pushover of their reputation. Somebody is stopping the other side with 99 first-quarter points allowed compared to 275 scored. And interestingly, since that awful afternoon against Auburn the Aggies have gotten a bit, say, defensive? In the last two games they've allowed 264 average yards, compared to 494 in the first seven contests. It's an odd-front base built around true frosh NG Isaiah Golden, a 310-pounder without a lot of tackles but plenty of influence. The ends are a matched pair of 255-pounders, with junior Gavin Stansbury at 35 tackles and 3.0 sacks and Julien Obioha 27 and 1.0. If a rookie nose guard is unusual in the SEC, how about a true frosh middle linebakcker in Darian Claiborne? He plays anything but raw though with 61 tackles, 6.0 for losses already. Senior WLB Steven Jenkins is two shy of 200 career tackles, while strong safety Howard Matthews is the team's top tackler at 67 stops. But he does much more than support as A&M gives their back seven, or eight, all sorts of freedom to ramble and gamble. That's how Matthews has come up with three interceptions and five more breakups, and a combined 57 tackles by either Floyd Raven or Clay Honeycutt at free safety. Corner-men de'Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett end up making lots of tackles of their own, since opponents are completing 56% of throws. In fact A&M is last in overall SEC defense, allowing 443 yards and almost 30 points. Then again it's not as if this unit has to be granite-steady, just a few stops every quarter (the specialty is a three-and-out to open second halves) suffices. Oh, and while the Aggie offense has lost the handle a good bit this year with 15 turnovers, the defense has come up with 19 balls to more than offset such. That includes three pick-sixes. Gamble and ramble, eh?

Specialists: It's kinda not fair to have that much offense and still a league leading punter, with Drew Kaser hitting them almost 49 yards each turn. Or maybe he's just energized to get rare chances to kick it away. Placekicking is shared, with Taylor Bertolet (2-of-3) and Josh Lambo (6-of-7) equally efficient. Bertolet nets 62.5 on his kickoffs. Harris is the primary punt returner, Trey Williams handles kickoffs.

Bulldog Notebook: Going into last week Mississippi State had committed the fewest total turnovers in the SEC and led the league with a lone fumble in seven games. But three interceptions and two fumbles lost at South Carolina—and lack of forcing turnovers—has dropped the Dogs all the way to 11th this week.

*State has not recovered a fumble since the Bowling Green game; or intercepted a pass since LSU.

*Senior OG Gabe Jackson has started all 47 games of his Bulldog career, the most ever for a Mullen player. He surpassed Johnthan Banks' 44 starts in 2009-12. And this year only Georgia's Aaron Murray has more active-player starts in the NCAA, at 48.

*In SEC-only play State ranks first in league red-zone efficiency with nine touchdowns in 11 chances. But that is also the fourth-fewest red-zone touchdowns scored by league teams, too.

*And opponents have scored 16 touchdowns on 22 chances inside State's red-zone, the highest such rate in the SEC for all games.

*MSU's conference opponents have been flagged just 14 times in four games, by far fewest in the league.

*The Bulldog offense has netted ten or more yards on 139 snaps, or 23.7% of all offensive chances this season including turnovers, kneel-downs, whatever. In four SEC games the average is still over 18%, 54 of 292.

*State must build a winning margin by halftime, or else. The Dogs are out-scoring foes 173-69 before intermission, but trail 54-98 after the break.

*QB Dak Prescott is playing with a heavy heart this week after the Sunday morning passing of mother Peggy Prescott and Wednesday's funeral in Haughton, La.

*This game matches the only two SEC quarterbacks who lead their teams in rushing.

*Prescott has produced the best statistical games of his still-young career in the last two SEC weeks, with combined 51-of-77 passing for 503 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also rushed for 111 yards and two more scores against Kentucky and South Carolina.

*Running, throwing, or receiving Prescott has produced 17 touchdowns this season though only a dozen of them count in personal SEC scoring. He has rushed for ten scores, thrown for five, and caught a pair of touchdown passes.

*So less than two full seasons Prescott has had a hand in 25 Bulldog touchdowns, on 350 plays. That averages out to a touchdown of some sort every 14 times Prescott runs, throws, or catches.

*Not counting the two catches, Prescott needs just a dozen more touchdowns tossed or toted to make the all-time MSU top ten (35, Rockey Felker 1972-74). His early pace means Don Smith's (1983-86) record of 52 touchdowns-responsible for is within career reach.

*Prescott's caught passes are netting 12.2 yards each.

*In both games (Troy, Kentucky) that Prescott caught a TD pass the thrower was WR Jameon Lewis…who also in the UK game rushed and caught for scores. That was the first time in recorded SEC history a team had two players score a touchdown-trifecta in that fashion.

*Lewis is Mr. All-Purpose at MSU, with 114 yards of various sorts every weekend…not including those two touchdowns tossed, too. And that is with Lewis frustrated in punt returns with minus-two yards on ten attempts.

*Lewis has rushed for three touchdowns this season, or as many scores as he had combined running, receiving, and returning in his first two total seasons.

*But his calling-card is as a receiver, where he leads State in both catches (37) and yards (491), and has four of the team's nine touchdowns caught.

*Lewis nets 13.3 yards each catch, and 9.1 on his rushes.

*And because he's 2-of-2 passing this year, both for touchdowns to Prescott, his quarterback efficiency is an astronomical 652.6 compared to say Prescott's 122.03.

*Counting a touchdown kickoff return last season, Lewis is the only Bulldog to have scored four ways.

*Senior QB Tyler Russell missed the South Carolina game entirely, after rolling his left ankle early in the Kentucky game. He has been practicing first-team this week in Prescott's absence and is fully-available again. Russell has missed all of four games and most of three more.

*In the first return, from an opening-day concussion, Russell was 20-of-27 passing for 258 yards without an interception. He is just under 70% completions for the interrupted senior season.

*This has kept Russell from adding to his MSU career-record 39 touchdown passes. He is still third in completions, second in completions-percentage, and fifth in yardage. Russell needs 43 yards to become the fifth Bulldog quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards.

*Ankle issues and Prescott's running have taken a toll on RB LaDarius Perkins' senior season. He's rushed just 79 times for 378 net yards. With four games left his chances are slim for repeating as a 1,000 yard rusher, after he gained 1,024 in the junior season.

*He's also had a career-low season scoring so far with just one rushing touchdown in seven games.

*Despite those struggles, Perkins just reached a program benchmark. He is only the third Bulldog to record 4,000 all-purpose yards. In fact he now has exactly 4,000 rushing, receiving, and returning in his four seasons. First place belongs to former teammate Anthony Dixon with 4,443.

*A week after they tore up Kentucky, the tight ends were held in check at South Carolina. Only TE Malcolm Johnson caught a ball at the position, three of them for 15 yards. Against the Wildcats the position produced six catches and 130 yards.

*Johnson is setting that position-pace with 17 balls for 206 yards, both career highs.

*But classmate and WR Robert Johnson is still ahead of his namesake, with career-high totals of 23 catches and 262 yards. The two Johnsons and Lewis are the only Dogs with a reception each game this season.

*Seven Dogs have rushed for a touchdown this season; five have caught a scoring pass.

*The team tackles lead has flipped back in favor of senior OLB Deontae Skinner (50), who edged ahead of MLB Benardrick McKinney (49) after eight games. Skinner also has a slight edge in tackles for losses, 3.5 to 3.0.

*McKinney got his first sack of the season, at South Carolina, to now tie Skinner at one each. Skinner has intercepted a pass while McKinney has recovered a fumble.

*He didn't get a sack, but DT/DE Chris Jones was credited with a pair of hurries last week giving him a team-best seven on the season.

*DE Preston Smith extended his team lead in TFLs to 6.0. He is also the only Dog defender with two sacks so far.

*FS Nickoe Whitley was back in action last week, having sat out the second half against Kentucky following ejection. The senior now has 205 career tackles, most on the squad.

*Whitley is third in career interceptions at State with 13, three this season and two of them in the Auburn game. He needs three more to catch Johnthan Banks (2009-12) and Walt Harris (1992-95) in a first-place tie.

*The Bulldog defense is last in SEC sacks with ten in eight games.

*Taking over as primary punter, KS Devon Bell averaged 47.6 on five kicks at Columbia. He loosed a 62-yarder, the longest Bulldog punt since 2010.

*This gave the soph a season average of 44.9 yards on nine punts. Senior Baker Swedenburg has averaged 43.7 yards on 18 punts with five of 50 or more yards.

*Bell has done an excellent job in the second season kicking off, averaging 63.0 yards with 21 touchbacks on 43 chances. He had 13 touchbacks as a freshman. And Bell has hit just one kickoff out of bounds.

*Placekicking was turned over to redshirt frosh Evan Sobiesk last week, and he made both a 38-yard field goal and a PAT. Bell was 5-of-11 on the season with three-straight misses before the change.

*In Mullen's five seasons, his defenses have scored 11 defensive touchdowns on either interceptions or fumble returns; and three safeties.

*If the trend holds some Dog will run back a kick of some sort to score before the season is over. Mullen teams have scored on kickoffs once each in 2009, '10, and '12; and twice on punts in 2011.

*State special teams have blocked one field goal (Whitley) and one punt (DT Nelson Adams) this season.

*Nine true freshmen have played this season, the latest being TE Samuel and OG Jamaal Clayborn who were both activated for Kentucky. They joined already-activated CB Kivon Coman, CB Tolando Cleveland, DT Chris Jones, WR Fred Ross, RB Ashton Shumpert, QB Damian Williams, and WR De'Runnya Wilson.

*True freshmen yet to play are: WR Shelby Christy, OL Kent Flowers, WR B.J. Hammond, LB Dezmond Harris, DB Gabe Myles, OL Jake Thomas, DB Brandon Wells.

*With the activation of CB Will Redmond last game, only two scholarship recruits of 2012 have yet to play in a game; TE Gus Walley (inj), and DT Jordan Washington.

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