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  • Four ugly turnovers against LSU last week obscured the fact that Mississippi State's dominant defense held the Tigers to 3.3 yards per play. How will the Bulldogs fare against Texas A&M?
By Sam Chase
October 24, 2018

Texas A&M at Mississippi State (-2.5)

Sat. 10/27, 7:00 p.m. ET

Three things to know before betting on Texas A&M-Mississippi State:

1. At 5-2, Texas A&M is an interesting case of a team that has, at times, been more impressive in its losses than its wins. In Week 2, A&M nearly took down Clemson in a 28-26 loss in College Station. Two weeks later, the Aggies went to Tuscaloosa and gave Alabama the closest thing to a competitive game that the Tide have seen all year even though A&M lost 45-23. Jimbo Fisher's team has won three straight since then against Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina, but none of those victories came by more than a touchdown. To take down Kentucky, easily the best of those three teams, A&M needed overtime.

This week the Aggies travel to Starkville to play Mississippi State, which has lost three out of its last four. A 23-9 win over Auburn two weeks ago suggested that MSU's subpar offense had turned a corner, but an ugly 19-3 loss to LSU off a bye this past week brought the Bulldogs back to earth. Mississippi State outgained LSU by nearly a whole yard per play but turned the ball over four times. The Bulldogs have recent history going for them when they host the Aggies. MSU has won three of its last five against A&M and covered the spread in four of those games. When Mississippi State last played at home against the Aggies, it won 35-28 as a 10-point underdog in 2016.

2. With Fisher at the helm, A&M's offense looks re-energized this season. Quarterback Kellen Mond is fifth in the SEC in completion percentage (61.7%) and yards per attempt (8.4), and makes plays with his legs, too. Mond's 54-yard scamper against Alabama was the longest run allowed by the Tide this season. Mond has a special weapon in tight end Jace Sternberger, who dominated against South Carolina last week with seven catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. The Aggies haven't exactly blown away the weaker defenses they've faced, though, averaging fewer than 6.0 yards per play against both Arkansas and South Carolina.

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A&M will face one of the nation's best in Mississippi State. The Bulldogs D has held opponents to under 20 points in all but one game this year. It completely stifled LSU last week, limiting the Tigers to a minuscule 3.3 yards per play. The defensive line is eighth in the nation in stuff rate, holding opposing rushers to zero or negative yardage on 26.9% of carries. The defensive line is fearsome against the pass, too, with a sack rate of 8.6% that ranks among the top 25 in the country. The Bulldogs are one of only three teams that has allowed three or fewer completions of 30-plus yards.

3. The Aggies defenders are no slouches, but they are quite vulnerable to big plays, having allowed 18 plays of 30 yards or more from scrimmage (93rd in FBS). They're better against the run, allowing only 3.24 yards per carry. But A&M will face a Bulldogs offense that has underperformed in recent games. The four interceptions against LSU were an anomaly for quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. And history has shown that Fitzgerald doesn't need to put up big numbers for MSU to thrive. In last year's 21-point win over A&M, he threw for only 141 yards. The key in that game—as it will be in this game—was Mississippi State's running game. The Bulldogs are eighth in the nation by rushing for 5.94 yards per carry, which is even more impressive considering that they've faced some of the country's best run defenses. Fitzgerald has run for more than 130 yards three times this season, and running back Kylin Hill is averaging 4.62 yards per carry after contact. It will be a battle, but with the home crowd at their back, expect the Bulldogs to dictate the tempo enough to cover.

Pick: Mississippi State -2.5

Confidence Level: Moderate (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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