Mississippi State has a record of 8-3, and teams with such a record tend to have better season averages in most categories than their opponents do collectively. For example, MSU is plus-16 in turnover margin, is outscoring foes by an average of 30.8 to 20.7, and has given up fewer sacks (13) than it’s recorded (17).
This doesn’t hold true to every category, like rushing. State is averaging 150.7 yards on the ground while giving up 159.9. But it makes up for that in the passing game (243.8 to 217.5). There is one category, however, where MSU has been curiously outdone: First downs.
The Bulldogs are averaging 20.6 first downs per game (227 total), while opponents are averaging 21 per game (231 total). MSU is the only SEC team with a winning record to have fewer first downs than its opponent. What makes this stat even more curious is that in league games, MSU actually has the edge in first downs, 21.4 to 20.7.
In four non-conference games, MSU’s offense has recorded 77 first downs (19.3) to its opponents’ 86 (21.5). The culprits were the Troy and South Alabama games. Troy had 30 first downs to MSU’s 17, while USA had a 21-15 advantage. (State won that first game 30-24, the other 30-10, in consecutive weeks.) So that is where you find the disparity. Take away those two games, and MSU averages 21.7 first downs per game to opponents’ 20.
In 11 games, MSU has won the first-down battle six times. It was in the minus (17.3 to 26.7) in all three losses (to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU). I believe all these numbers confirm what we’ve seen: MSU’s defense has been bending a little more this year than last.