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Mississippi State-Texas A&M Five Factors Review

The Aggies improved to 5-0 but aren't devoid of questions.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, I think I have Mississippi State pegged. The offense is the Dan Mullen offense, only he calls a lot of passes because he doesn't have any trustworthy running backs. The defense is bend-but-don't-break with sketchy tackling, but you probably can't run inside on them. The Bulldogs are the platonic ideal of an "also receiving votes" team: if you're legitimately good, you'll probably beat them, but if you're not, they'll probably beat you.

With that in mind, I look at this review as more of an investigation into Texas A&M. The Aggies are one of the few undefeated teams nationally, and they've now got a bye week before facing Alabama. A&M passed the Mississippi State "are you good?" test, but we'll see how far that might take them.

This is based on the Five Factors of winning. I've eliminated the run-out-the-clock drives at the ends of each of the two halves, and sacks count as pass plays.

Explosiveness

Team Runs 10+ Pct. Passes 20+ Pct. Explosive Pct.
Mississippi State 7 22.6% 2 5.6% 13.4%
Texas A&M 5 12.8% 5 11.9% 12.3%

State was able to break off a number of big running plays, the biggest of them being Malik Dear's 52-yard touchdown run. Dear looked great in limited action, but cramping kept him on the sideline for much of the game. None of the explosive runs for the Bulldogs were cheap ones that failed to move the sticks on third-and-California, as each went for a first down or touchdown.

The Aggies' explosive rates are solid but unspectacular. They were more efficient than explosive in this one.

Efficiency

The main measure here is success rate.

Team Run SR Pass SR Overall SR Red Zone SR
Mississippi State 41.9% 41.7% 41.8% 75.0%
Texas A&M 48.7% 47.6% 48.1% 46.7%

Both teams moved the ball decently well overall, but the Aggies were better at it. This pretty well fits the way the game went, which is that A&M was always ahead but could never pull away decisively until the end.

Team 1Q SR 2Q SR 3Q SR 4Q SR
Mississippi State 36.8% 20.0% 54.5% 43.8%
Texas A&M 85.0% 40.7% 33.3% 31.3%

TAMU was unsustainably hot right out of the gate, with basically everything working except for trying to run inside. In fact, trying to run inside without hitting success plays had a role in stalling out five of A&M's 12 drives y my count, with three ending up field goal attempts, one ending up a fourth down touchdown pass, and the other a bring a turnover on downs. Things cooled off considerably from that first quarter, but the Ags converting 50% of their third downs helped to keep the ball moving when first and/or second down didn't work out so well.

Efficiency by Player

Player Comp. Pct. Pass Eff. Yards/Att Sacks Pass SR
Dak Prescott 58.8% 110.7 6.2 2 41.7%
Kyle Allen 61.0% 143.0 7.9 1 47.6%

Prescott is doing what he can, but he's having to shoulder a big load. Over half of the Bulldogs' plays in this game were either pass or rush attempts by him. Except for the Northwestern State game, he's tied or led the team in carries in each game. Without a running back the coaches seem to trust, everything is on him. He's good, but he's not good enough to carry this team to a road win against a team as good as A&M.

This was Allen's first game in which he took every snap from center. Some of that has to do with him playing well, but I'll have more to say on it later.

Player Targets Catches Yards Yards/Target SR
Fred Ross 12 11 103 8.6 66.7%
De'Runnya Wilson 6 3 65 10.8 50.0%
Fred Brown 5 2 9 1.8 20.0%
Malik Dear 3 2 23 7.7 66.7%
Donald Gray 3 1 6 2.0 33.3%
Brandon Holloway 1 1 4 4.0 0.0%
Ashton Shumpert 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%
Gabe Myles 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%
Joe Morrow 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%
Justin Johnson 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%

Ross had a really great game. Wilson's was marred by fumbling on a 36-yard reception, the longest of the game for his team.

Player Targets Catches Yards Yards/Target SR
Christian Kirk 14 8 77 5.5 42.9%
Josh Reynolds 11 7 141 12.8 63.6%
Damion Ratley 6 2 45 7.5 33.3%
Ricky Seals-Jones 5 5 34 6.8 60.0%
Caden Smith 2 1 3 1.5 0.0%
Tra Carson 1 1 13 13.0 100.0%
James White 1 1 9 9.0 100.0%
Sabian Holmes 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%

Reynolds, Kirk, and Seals-Jones made for a great 1-2-3 combo early, but a borderline targeting flag sent Seals-Jones to the locker room in the second quarter. Seals-Jones was attempting to block a player who's significantly shorter than he is, and it seemed the logistical issues with doing so led to his helmet hitting his quarry's helmet. It was more than 90% a shoulder-to-shoulder hit, but the replay official called the flag "confirmed". Anyway, A&M's success rate before Seals-Jones's ejection was 62.9%, but afterwards it was just 37.0%.

Player Carries YPC Rushing SR
Dak Prescott 16 6.8 50.0%
Brandon Holloway 5 1.0 0.0%
Ashton Shumpert 4 4.3 25.0%
Aeris Williams 2 9.0 100.0%
Dontavian Lee 2 0.0 0.0%
Malik Dear 1 52.0 100.0%
Gabe Myles 1 3.0 1.0%

Dear and Williams seem to have deserved more touches here, but Williams fumbled on one of his two carries and, again, cramps kept Dear on the bench for long parts of the game. With Shumpert not able to duplicate Josh Robinson's productivity and no one else conclusively stepping up, the run game falls largely to Prescott.

Player Carries YPC Rushing SR
Tra Carson 22 4.3 45.5%
Kyle Allen 10 6.5 60.0%
Christian Kirk 4 17.0 50.0%
James White 3 2.0 33.3%

Here is why I think Allen never gave way to Murray. Carson ran for a better average and success rate here than he did against Arizona State. He also ran for a better average than he did against Arkansas, but crucially, he was also more effective early in this one than against the Hogs. After Murray had a bad passing effort against the Sun Devils, he hasn't attempted a pass while a game was in any kind of doubt. He only relieved Allen while up big late against Ball State and Nevada, and he only ran with the ball against Arkansas. Right now he's less the backup quarterback and more just another part of the run game.

With Carson doing well early and generally being enough throughout, Murray wasn't needed and Allen took every snap.

Field Position

Team Avg. Starting Position Plays in Opp. Territory Pct. Of Total
Mississippi State Own 21 19 28.4%
Texas A&M Own 32 46 56.8%

An 11-yard advantage on average across 12 drives adds up to 132 hidden yards in the Aggies' favor. The bad field position, combined with five three-and-outs and a forced fumble on a drive's fourth play, kept the Bulldogs on their own side of the 50 for most of this one.

Finishing Drives

A trip inside the 40 is any drive with a first down at the 40 or closer or a long scoring play from beyond. A red zone trip is any drive with a first down at the 20 or closer.

Team Drives Trips Inside 40 Points Red Zone Trips Points
Mississippi State 12 4 17 2 7
Texas A&M 12 6 30 4 20

The Aggies got points on all of their scoring opportunities, even if their occasional rushing struggles forced them into three field goal attempts. MSU came into the game with one of the best red zone defenses, so getting two field goals on four red zone trips isn't unexpected. A&M also managed to have a 13-play drive that never escaped its own territory, which is kind of weird.

Turnovers

Mississippi State lost two fumbles, while Texas A&M didn't turn it over once.

Overall

One way to beat Alabama is to hit them harder than they hit you. It's how Les Miles has been able to beat the Tide from time to time. Texas A&M just isn't built to do that.

The other way is to have enough good wide receivers and tight ends going out for passes to sufficiently stress Bama's defense. Ole Miss had five—Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo, Evan Engram, and Damore'ea Stringfellow—and that was enough. Georgia had one—Malcolm Mitchell—and got stomped.

Texas A&M definitely has two with Reynolds and Kirk. It will have a third if the Seals-Jones from this game shows up and not the one from the previous two games (combined output: one catch, 11 yards). It'd be nice to see Speedy Noil, but both he and Jeremy Tabuyo missed the Mississippi State game with undisclosed injuries. The team isn't giving any guidance yet as to whether Noil will be able to fight the Tide nine days from now.

TAMU is on the edge of being excellent. MSU looked like it was playing scared on passing downs because it didn't think it could block Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. Turns out, it couldn't. Allen is progressing as one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and he has a great collection of targets to throw to when they're fully present. A&M doesn't have that good of an offensive line, though, and it's not consistent at all in the run game.

I don't know if the Aggies will beat Alabama. Though I picked them to do so back in August, I'm leaning away from it now after having done deep dive reviews on the team's three games against Power 5 teams. Arizona State's blitz-a-thon led to easily the lowest efficiency ratings the team has had so far, and Bama's front seven can probably cause nearly that much havoc without having to send extra guys often. I don't think Carson will have a good day running the ball, and Murray may not either if running is all he does. The receivers should find some openings provided the good Seals-Jones appears, and Noil coming back would be a boost.

The Aggie defense that largely stymied MSU despite allowing some yards will have to come up big. Thanks to John Chavis and the emergence of Hall alongside Garrett, that defense has a chance to be the deciding factor in the game. Its performance against the Bulldogs allowed the offense to settle for field goals without it coming back to bite them.

A Texas A&M team with a defense good enough to not put all the pressure on the offense is a dangerous thing indeed. We saw such a team against Mississippi State. Seeing it again against Alabama would probably lead to an upset.