#17 Texas A&M (3-1) will go on the road against unranked Mississippi State (3-1) and attempt to prolong their playoff chances. They narrowly survived 23-21 against Arkansas last week, but it came at a heavy cost. Their best receiver Ainias Smith suffered a season-ending leg injury.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, dispatched Bowling Green 45-14 behind Will Rogers’ 406 yards and 6 touchdowns. Their previous loss to LSU stings, but the Bulldogs remain in the hunt if they don’t drop another game.
Can Mississippi State triumph at home behind a memorable Will Rogers performance? Their odds to do so are found below, as well as picks, predictions, and key matchups.
*All stats per PFF
Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State Odds
Texas A&M was initially favored, but Smith’s injury has caused the line to settle at -3.5 Mississippi State. The over under is one of the lowest marks this week despite Mississippi State’s efficient offense. The reasoning behind this line is rooted in the fact that Smith was an invaluable piece to Texas A&M’s offense.
Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State Prediction & Pick
The best bet here is Mississippi State covering the spread. Miami outplayed Texas A&M, and the Aggies were extremely fortunate to escape against Arkansas, who essentially handed them 17 points in a two point game. Now they face a flourishing Mississippi State team that owns a clear talent advantage at quarterback.
Will Rogers is tied 1st in touchdowns and tied 3rd in adjusted completion percentage. Despite his accurate deep passes (6 big time throws on 12 20+ yard attempts), Rogers mostly picks apart opponents with short to intermediate completions. Of the 115 quarterbacks with 80+ dropbacks, he ranks 111th in average depth of target at 5.9 yards.
Rogers’ counterpart, QB Max Johnson, is the complete opposite. Johnson ranks 125th of 134 quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage (minimum 60 dropbacks) and owns zero big time throws compared to two turnover worthy plays. Johnson struggled against a weak Arkansas secondary despite having safety blanket Ainias Smith, so his matchup with a talented Mississippi State secondary looks grim.
Collin Duncan and Jalen Green form a stingy safety duo for Mississippi State. They have allowed a combined 95 yards on 18 targets while producing four pass breakups and one interception. Johnson’s shaky deep accuracy is definitely concerning against this safety room. Plus, Forbes, Richardson, and Matthews are solid cornerbacks who will limit the ability of A&M’s receivers to create separation. It’s difficult to envision Texas A&M driving down the field considering the offensive and defensive personnel involved.
RB Devon Achane is A&M’s best hope in terms of offensive production. He gashed Arkansas for 159 yards and one touchdown on 19 attempts. However, Mississippi State owns a stronger run defense than Arkansas. Achane won’t find gaps easily, so he must force missed tackles while also providing value as a receiver.
Overall, Mississippi State is far more explosive than A&M’s weak offense. They will find it easier to consistently drive down the field and generate points. Because of the likely long drives for Mississippi State compared to numerous three and outs for A&M, I expect the Aggies defense to be exhausted by the fourth quarter. This energy level difference will be an important factor, along with the fact that Mississippi State is the home team.
Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State Key Matchups
Which vital offensive player can aid their respective team? Their matchups are found below.
WR Evan Stewart vs. CB Emmanuel Forbes & Decamerion Richardson
With Smith out, Stewart is the only A&M receiver with more than five receptions. The five-star freshman is still acclimating, as he owns zero contested catches, one drop, and a 68.2 NFL passer rating when targeted (compared to a 115.1 rating for Smith). In addition, Stewart must contend with Forbes, Richardson, and a stifling safety duo.
If he cannot provide decent windows for Max Johnson, then there will be little that A&M’s passing offense can do. It’s essential that Stewart makes key first downs and consistently burns his defender.
— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 25, 2022
RB Dillon Johnson vs. LB Edgerrin Cooper & Chris Russell Jr.
Johnson leads Mississippi State at 21 receptions, and 17 of those have come from behind the line of scrimmage. He’s a dangerous outlet in the flat who has forced nine missed tackles. Through Johnson’s receiving talent, Mississippi State often picks up five to seven yards, which allows them to frequently avoid third and long.
Cooper and Russell will be responsible for watching Johnson, and they must be prepared to collapse quickly. The pair is solid in pass play tackling (7 stops vs 2 missed tackles), which is paramount here. They cannot allow Johnson any extra yards because the defense will already struggle to stop Rogers’ pinpoint accuracy.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 24, 2022