Mississippi States travels to Texas A&M to play the Aggies under lights Saturday night at Kyle Field (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
While the rivalry between the Aggies (5-2, 3-1 SEC) and Bulldogs (5-2, 2-2 SEC) isn’t a bitter one, it certainly isn’t amicable. See Mississippi State’s 43-41 win over A&M in the 2000 Independence Bowl as a sore subject for the latter.
Both schools rely heavily on their quarterbacks to make plays. That means whoever can shut down either the Bulldogs’ Nick Fitzgerald or Aggies’ signal caller Kellen Mond should find themselves in a position to climb the divisional standings.
For Mississippi State, nose tackle Jeffery Simmons’ (34 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) relentless pass attack has singlehandedly altered games in the Bulldogs’ favor this year.
On the other side of the ball is a Texas A&M squad adroit at causing turnovers, with a 1.00 margin per game, good enough for second in the SEC.
Here’s what to look for:
1. The quarterbacks
Nick Fitzgerald is no stranger to the Texas A&M defense, and vice versa. Last year, the junior torched the Aggies for 209 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air, while adding an additional 182 and another pair of scores on the ground in Mississippi State’s 35-28 upset win in 2016.
The junior has 1,179 yards and 11 touchdowns via the air through Mississippi State’s first seven games. He’s also accounted for 561 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground.
Kellen Mond is a major reason why Kevin Sumlin’s hot seat has cooled at Texas A&M. The freshman has been one of the bigger surprises in the SEC this year with his 1,225 passing yards and 7 touchdowns. Like Fitzgerald, Mond can also get the job done with his legs, rushing for 318 yards and 3 scores during his first season in College Station.
2. Series history
Mississippi State and Texas A&M will play a rubber match in their all-time series when the two programs meet in Week 9. The Bulldogs and Aggies have split their 10 games overall, with A&M holding a 3-2 edge in SEC play. Mississippi State’s 35-28 upset win over the then No. 7 Aggies last year was Kevin Sumlin’s second defeat of the 2016 campaign and kicked off a stretch in which A&M closed out the year with a 1-4 record.
3. Opening line
Mississippi State is a one-point favorite over Texas A&M at some sports books, and it’s a pick ’em game at others, despite the game being played in College Station.
4. Player to watch
Mississippi State outside linebacker Montez Sweat is coming off a career-best 7-tackle performance against Kentucky, including 2.5 tackles for loss. Of the former Michigan State product’s 6 tackles-for-loss on the year, 5 have come in the Bulldogs’ last four games. His effort against the Wildcats earned him the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Sweat’s award wasn’t the only one for a Mississippi State lineman. The SEC named Bulldogs right guard Deion Calhoun as its Offensive Lineman of the Week after a 93 percent grade and 3 pancake blocks against the Wildcats.
5. What’s at stake
The winner of this tilt becomes bowl eligible. That would make eight straight trips to the postseason for Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, who’s only missed out on a bowl trip once (his first year in 2009).
A victory makes Texas A&M’s bowl streak even longer at nine consecutive postseasons. That stretch pre-dates Sumlin. The Aggies have made a bowl game in each of his first five seasons with the program.