#14 Texas A&M did play better. Enough so to defend the home field with a 30-17 victory over #21 Mississippi State. The Aggies remained unbeaten at 5-0, 2-0 SEC, and moved into a tie with LSU for top spot in the Western Division.
Mullen’s Bulldogs left Kyle Field 3-2, 1-2 SEC. They didn’t leave discouraged though. Just frustrated. WR Fred Ross was as concise as his coach, and more blunt.
“We shot ourselves in the foot. We’re a much better team than that.”
The Bulldogs needed to be better all this evening to stay with maybe the West’s hottest club. Texas A&M needed a tick more than five minutes to score on the game’s first series, and never trailed. Mississippi State did make a couple of comeback shots. Such as a field goal response to the initial Aggie touchdown, itself a capsule commentary. A dramatic touchdown dash by freshman WR Malik Dear cut another deficit to 17-10 early enough in the second period to look like it was going to be another Bulldog-Aggie shootout.
But a miss-handled situation late in the same period left A&M enough time to grab a 14-point margin at intermission. All the Aggies had to do the rest of the way was avoid giving up many drives, and pad the lead with two of Taylor Bertolet’s three field goals. When the Bulldogs’ two final possessions went just three and four snaps the home team was safe.
Mullen ran through his personal check-list of where A&M played better. Nothing loomed larger than the pair of third-quarter turnovers. State’s first series of the new half seemed about to get going when WR De’Runnya Wilson converted third down with a tough catch and run…
…until Donovan Wilson stripped him from behind and recovered the fumble at midfield. The Aggies converted this takeaway into a field goal and 27-10 lead. State had to get a touchdown to stay in it and ten plays later were in position to do it. But after gaining ten yards on one rush for first down on the Aggie 11, RB Aeris Williams was also stripped for a turnover recovered at the three. A&M didn’t score off this turnover but did end up punting to the Bulldog one-yard line.
“There were so many little things you can point out, that it could have gone differently,” Mullen said. “But it didn’t.”
Even had State done everything well, the Aggies might have prevailed anyway. Because quarterback Kyle Allen had a huge night. He threw for 322 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and rushed for 65 more yards on 12 tries. The ground gains might have done more to disrupt the Dog defense in fact, as the keeper had to be accounted for at the expense of extra coverage.
Allen began by completing his first nine throws for 116 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns. A&M trusted him enough on 4th-and-short at the Bulldog goal line to not run but let the quarterback create. Allen recovered balance when LB Beniquez Brown grabbed an ankle and found Ricky Seal-Jones coming across the end zone for the one-yard score at 9:59. The next series was even more brutally efficient, six plays for 75 yards with Damion Ratley hauling in a 29-yard touchdown at 3:23.
“He’s a good quarterback,” said CB Taveze Calhoun. “He’s got a lot of talent to work with and he’s a good player, good arm, makes smart decisions.”
Seal-Jones’ night ended early on ejection for targeting on a teammate’s catch, so he had only 34 yards on five catches. Super-freshman Christian Kirk more than offset the loss with eight balls for 77 yards, and Josh Reynolds did better on seven balls with 141 yards. Then there was Tra Carson getting harder yards on the ground, 110 on 26 yards. He cracked left tackle from a yard out just 20 seconds before halftime for the other Aggie touchdown.
“We had some small tweaks where we were an inch away from being the defense we wanted to be,” said LB Richie Brown. In the second half State did the right tweaking and the Aggies had to settle for field goals. ““We just got used to the tempo,” said Brown. “We knew what they were going to do but we didn’t get used to it to the second half.”
QB Dak Prescott and the offense had a pretty good idea what the Aggie defense wanted to do, too. But it took too long to make much of it. As Prescott said “Self inflicted mistakes” did as much to stop State as the opponent. Such as on the first series, when with 1st-and-10 at the Aggie 27 Prescott had WR Gabe Myles open for a touchdown. The throw had to be rushed and went long.
“I missed that throw, I think that was huge. Make that throw, it’s 7-7 and could be a different game.”
The next series saw State get to the 35 with 4th-and-3. Down 14-3 already Mullen had to take the chance, and the play call was perfect. But with RB Ashton Shumpert open in the left flat Prescott just missed, high and behind. The third quarter fumbles assured there could not be a comeback, too.
“I think we stopped ourselves,” Prescott said. “Nothing they were doing was stopping us or making it hard for us to move the ball.”
Nothing other than constant heat from A&M’s excellent defensive ends, who both whipped State’s tackles with silly ease for big hits and stops. Combined with aggressive grabs at Bulldog arms for those forced fumbles and it was enough.
Even so State did get the offense going at halftime. They finished with 406 yards, and after a very slow start got 196 of it on the ground. Prescott did most of the work with 96 yards on 18 rushes, some called and most created he said. “They were giving us the quarterback run and I know I had to get the run game going.” Prescott’s five-yard keeper in the fourth quarter accounted for State’s last points.
Freshman Dear had 52 yards on just one carry, for the first State score. He turned an end-around into a burst through a gap created by RT Justin Senior and used a closing block by WR De’Runnya Wilson to make the end zone. The rest of Bulldog scoring came on PK Westin Graves’s 38-yard field goal on the initial series.
Prescott was 20-of-34 passing for 210 yards. His favorite target was Ross, with 103 yards on a career-high 11 catches. Wilson caught three balls for 65 yards.
Mullen did not sound too down-beat afterwards. His team did settle down in the second half on defense against a superb offensive system. The offense produced enough gains and positive plays, some explosive, to show how close it might have been with just a little consistency. And, better protection for Prescott.
Which was why the head coach was already looking towards the upcoming home stand. Even a 1-2 league record isn’t alarming Mullen. “It wouldn’t shock me if the SEC champion had three losses. There is so much football to play.”
“We’re going to regroup,” Brown said. “We’re an inch away. I‘m sure the media will see it differently. But we’re a few plays away from being the team we want to be.”