Grounded once more: Mississippi State offense again stymied in loss to Texas A&M

Joel Coleman

STARKVILLE, Miss. – In the moments after Mississippi State fell 28-14 to No. 11 Texas A&M on Saturday, Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach didn't mind admitting it. After three straight weeks of sluggish performances, Leach said his Air Raid offense is struggling like never before in his coaching career.

The latest frustrations for Leach's scheme came courtesy of the Aggies, who allowed only 217 yards of total offense to MSU as the Bulldogs fell yet again. State is now on a three-game losing streak with decreasing offensive production in each loss. The Bulldogs put up 400 yards in a setback to Arkansas and 295 yards in a loss at Kentucky before Saturday's showing.

"We're behind what I'd hoped we'd be," Leach confessed. 

Saturday was a continuation of many of the problems that have plagued the Bulldogs over the course of the season. Mississippi State (1-3) again struggled along its offensive line. Texas A&M (3-1) got consistent pressure, sacking Bulldog quarterbacks six times. The Aggies also had eight tackles for loss.

In fact, State's ineffective play along its offensive front was key in setting the tone for the game.

"I thought we squandered the first half," Leach said. 

With little going right up front, MSU couldn't get the ball down the field. State had six first-half drives. Five ended in punts with one concluding via an interception. Four of the six drives were five plays or less and three of those were three-and-outs. In all, the Bulldogs gained just 98 total first-half yards.

It allowed the Aggies to build a 14-0 lead after two quarters. Mississippi State's defense, which entered as the Southeastern Conference's second-best unit in terms of total defense, again had a strong showing. However in the second quarter, the Bulldogs did surrender an eight-play, 66-yard drive capped off by an Isaiah Spiller three-yard touchdown run to go down 7-0. Then later, after a blocked punt put the Aggies at the MSU one-yard line, Texas A&M cashed in on another Spiller run to double its lead.

With the offense continuing to sputter, it was the MSU defense that got the Bulldogs back in the game briefly. In the opening moments of the third quarter, cornerback Emmanuel Forbes found himself in the right place at the right time as a Texas A&M pass was batted into the air back towards the line of scrimmage and right into the hands of Forbes. He returned the interception 60 yards for a touchdown to get the Bulldogs back within seven, but they'd get no closer. Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond threw a couple of third-quarter touchdown passes to essentially put the game away.

The Bulldogs did at least show a bit of an offensive pulse late. For the second-straight week, Leach inserted true freshman Will Rogers at quarterback for MSU in place of starter K.J. Costello. Rogers entered midway through the third quarter and eventually rewarded his coach's faith. Starting at the end of the third quarter and stretching into the fourth, Rogers engineered a 13-play, 89-yard drive that culminated with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Malik Heath.

"When you consider the quality of team A&M has, that drive was maybe as good as I've had a freshman, especially a true freshman his age, have before," Leach said of Rogers.

But for all the promise Rogers displayed, the overall picture at least in the short term remains the same as it has for three weeks. The Bulldogs aren't consistently moving the football. And it's back to the drawing board with an off week ahead to try and get it all figured out.

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