College Station, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The 11th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies will play their final home game of the season on Saturday afternoon, as they host the Mississippi State Bulldogs in an SEC showdown.
Mississippi State had been winners of two straight heading into last week's action, but suffered a tough road loss to nationally-ranked South Carolina, 34-16. The Bulldogs, who have qualified for a bowl game in each of the past three seasons under head coach Dan Mullen, are 4-4 overall and 1-3 in the SEC, and they will need to secure two more wins in their last four games to qualify for the postseason once again.
"The difference (in the South Carolina game) was we turned the ball over five times, and your percentage of winning after doing that on the road in the SEC is very low," Mullen said. "We made mistakes and didn't make enough plays."
Texas A&M had national championship aspirations at the start of the season, but those dreams have been all but dashed following a pair of losses to SEC West Division rivals Alabama (49-42) and Auburn (45-41). The Aggies are still in the midst of a stellar campaign, however, as they sit at 7-2 overall (3-2 SEC) and made easy work of non-league foe Texas-El Paso last weekend, 57-7, but head coach Kevin Sumlin still wasn't entirely impressed with his team's effort.
"We were just a little bit off the first couple of series," he said. "We just weren't as sharp are we usually are, (but) we kicked it into gear. To win 57-7 and say you didn't play a complete game ... as a coach, there are some positives (in that)."
After this matchup, Texas A&M has a bye and then closes out the regular season with a pair of challenging road games at nationally-ranked foes LSU and Missouri.
The all-time series between these two programs is tied at 3-3 after the Aggies made easy work of the Bulldogs last season in Starkville, 38-13.
Although not comparable to the SEC's best, the Mississippi State offense has shown plenty of promise this season, scoring 28.4 ppg while amassing 447.1 ypg.
Dak Prescott has grabbed the starting quarterback job from Tyler Russell, due mostly to his prowess as a runner (568 yards, 10 TDs). The sophomore has made some plays with his arm as well (.591 completion percentage, 1,393 yards, five TDs), but he threw three interceptions against the Gamecocks last week and now has six picks on the year.
Jameon Lewis is an all-purpose threat. He is primarily utilized as a receiver (37 receptions, 491 yards, four TDs), but he has scored three rushing touchdowns, tossed a pair of scoring strikes, and returns punts and kickoffs to boot. He has thrown, caught and rushed for a touchdown in a single game twice this season.
LaDarius Perkins plays second-fiddle to Prescott in the rushing attack, tallying 378 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs quietly have one of the SEC's best defenses (24.2 ppg, 352.4 ypg). The unit has been outstanding on third down in particular, holding teams to just a 32-percent conversion rate.
Deontae Skinner has a team-high 50 tackles to go with 3.5 TFL, a sack and an interception. Nickoe Whitley (31 tackles) has three of the club's five interceptions, while Preston Smith is the only player with multiple sacks (two).
Picking up where they left off in 2012, the Aggies have one of the most potent offenses attacks in the nation, ranking fourth in scoring (49.0 ppg) and third in yardage (582.6 ypg).
Johnny Manziel is following up his 2012 Heisman Trophy season with another historic campaign, posting eye-popping numbers both passing (2,867 yards, 26 TDs) and rushing (564 yards, eight TDs), all while ranking fifth in the nation in completion percentage (.725). In less than three quarters of action against UTEP, Manziel racked up 340 total yards and accounted for six touchdowns.
Making Manziel's job under center a little easier is Mike Evans, who has caught 52 passes for 1,147 yards (second in FBS) and 12 touchdowns in a dominating season that has caught the eye of his head coach.
"I'm puzzled why Mike Evans isn't in the Heisman race," Sumlin said. "He's as good a player as there is in the country."
Malcome Kennedy (47 catches, 510 yards, five TDs), Derel Walker (31 catches, 437 yards, two TDs) and Travis Labhart (27 catches, 340 yards, three TDs) are also actively involved in the passing game.
Ben Malena heads a running back-by-committee system, turning 89 carries into 456 yards and eight touchdowns. Trey Williams (297 yards) and Tra Carson have also been productive with five scores apiece, but Carson is listed as doubtful for this bout with a neck injury.
What has kept the Aggies out of the nation's elite this season has a defensive effort that yields 29.8 ppg and ranks last in the SEC in surrendering 443.1 ypg. The unit has made up for its deficiencies somewhat by forcing 19 turnovers
Not only does Howard Matthews lead the team in tackles with 67, but he has picked off three passes and forced a fumble. Deshazor Everett, Nate Askew, Clay Honeycutt and Tommy Sanders have all accounted for multiple takeaways as well.