The Game: Mississippi State (7-1, 3-1 SEC) opens the November SEC stretch run by hosting Texas A&M …
Five Keys to Victory - Mississippi St. Game
I know. I know. It's always about the turnovers. But in this case, turnovers have been the storyline for both teams. Mississippi State leads the nation in home turnover margin at plus-13. With a stretch of sloppy performances at Ole Miss and at Louisiana Tech, the Aggies rank No. 101 in road turnover margin. MSU has a solid defense, but not up to the standards of Florida or LSU. Thus, the dynamic Aggie offense will move the ball. The only thing that can stop this unit on Saturday is itself with mistakes and turnovers.
2. Attack the Middle of the Field
The strength of the Bulldog defense is on the perimeter in the defensive backfield led by senior all-American candidate Johnthan Banks who leads the NCAA in career interception return yards along with three pick-6's. A&M should rely less on the sideline routes to Mike Evans and focus on quick-hitting plays over the middle and utilizing slot receivers between the hashes. In addition, the offense should try to leverage advantages along the line of scrimmage with a veteran offensive line that is hitting its stride in this new run game. MSU's rush defense has proven stingy in games against Auburn and Kentucky, but they have also surrendered 213 rushing yards to Tennessee and 223 yards to Troy. After a 352-yard rushing performance against Auburn last week, the Aggies feel they can attack MSU on the ground and between the tackles. By establishing an effective running game, that takes the pressure off of Johnny Manziel to force longer passes into the perimeter against some good cover corners.
3. Run Johnny Run
Mississippi State has struggled to pressure the quarterback all season, ranking No. 77 in sacks with only 1.63 sacks per game. Popular opinion says that means Johnny Manziel should stay in the pocket and allow the receiver to get open. With a salty Bulldog secondary, I think more time on the pocket means more running lanes for Manziel with defensive backs and linebackers spread out over the field. Force a linebacker to shadow Manziel and that should open up some short routes over the middle for tight ends and running backs. Plus, the odds are pretty strong that Manziel running free in the defensive backfield will end well for the Aggies.
4. Rejuvenated Play by the A&M Secondary
Ever since the defensive secondary was shell-shocked in the second half of the Louisiana Tech, the unit has struggled and lost confidence. An abysmal Auburn passing game generated over 200 yards on the arm of a freshman running quarterback with many receivers open downfield. MSU's Tyler Russell is a competent pocket passer on the Manning Watch List with 15 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. If the Aggie corners are content to give 8-9 yard cushions at the line of scrimmage and play soft, it could be a long day for the defense and this match-up of two ranked SEC teams could turn into a shootout. If the secondary can clamp down and contain the MSU passing game, then the A&M front seven should be able to control the rest of the field and create enough stops to allow the A&M offense to pull away in the second half.
5. Continue the Streak of Scoring First and Quiet the Cowbells
This will be a significant key to success for any SEC road games that can get loud and rowdy. It worked perfectly last week at Jordan-Hare Stadium when Auburn fans were stunned down 28-0 in the first quarter and they were heading for the exits by halftime. It's been a remarkable streak for the Aggie offense dating back to the 201l season. Texas A&M has scored first in the last 13 games including all eight games in 2012 under head coach Kevin Sumlin. Not only are the Aggies scoring first, but they are reaching the end zone, scoring touchdowns on its first drive five times in 2012. That's the best way to neutralize a home field advantage and stop the cowbells.
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