An ugly loss. There’s no other way to describe No. 4 Texas A&M’s 35-28 setback at Mississippi State on Saturday.
Here are five takeaways from the Aggies’ loss.
1. Aggies had chances, but didn’t take advantage
Championship teams find ways to win games like Saturday’s. It’s not as if the Aggies didn’t have their share of chances. The biggest: They had a second-and-1 from the 5 on their first drive of the second half, but ended up not scoring because of a missed field goal. Coming away with no points after your defense starts the second half with a three-and-out is unacceptable. And the fault lies as much with the play-calling as it does the execution: Rolling out on third-and-1 with a backup quarterback instead of just running straight ahead and getting a yard may forever haunt this squad. That said, A&M had two end zone interceptions or the final margin could have been wore … against a team that was 3-5 with a loss to South Alabama.
2. Defense, where have you gone?
After making quite the impression early in the season, A&M’s defense has gone downhill quickly. Since the goal-line stands against Arkansas on September 24, big plays and broken tackles have defined the unit more than anything else. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the defense really hasn’t been the same since Myles Garrett, the physical and emotional leader, was hurt during the win over Arkansas. Either way, what A&M’s defense did on the field Saturday, especially in the first half, was atrocious. Giving up a 74-yard touchdown run on Mississippi State’s first play from scrimmage and consistently allowing a young quarterback to do as he pleases is not how you prove you belong. It’s how you prove doubters right.
3. At times, the play-calling made you wonder.
After Trevor Knight came back from an injury to his throwing shoulder, it would have made sense to hand the ball off and let your running backs handle the load. A&M dialed up six passing plays instead. The result? Back-to-back three-and-outs. Making your quarterback, whose biggest asset is his legs, throw with a bum shoulder just doesn’t make a lot of sense to anyone. Except A&M coaches. When you pair that with the play-calling near the goal line and defensive breakdowns, this looked like 2014 or ’15.
4. The bright side? A&M’s receivers are still studs.
Christian Kirk was a bright spot. He had three plays of more than 50 yards, including a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown. Kirk finished with seven receptions for 144 yards and a TD. Josh Reynolds had five catches for 85 yards – including a 47-yarder – and a TD. The TD was his 25th career touchdown catch, which makes him the active leader in the SEC.
5. Now what?
This game changed the script in a big way for A&M. When you can’t beat the worst team in the SEC West, what can fans expect against offense-minded Ole Miss and resurgent LSU? If the Aggies were to finish out the year with three wins and get to double-digit victories, the season still would be considered a success. But the flip side of the conversation is an ugly one. Another loss or two would mean that the whole “A&M has gotten over the second-half collapse” narrative would, well, collapse. So, while there are no more playoff hopes, there still are big things to play for.
(You can follow Cavender Neutze on Twitter @neutz9)
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