We soldier on into November, the final month of the regular season. MSU continues its brutal closing stretch with a home game versus one of the new SEC members. The Bulldogs will likely be wearing some sort of alternate uniforms for this game in honor of the “Snow Bowl” – the 2000 Independence Bowl, which was played in a snowstorm and which MSU won in overtime, 43-41 (CLICK HERE). Yeah, we might see white helmets.
This will be the first meeting between MSU and A&M since that night in Shreveport. State leads the all-time series 3-2, and the first four meetings took place between 1912 and 1937. Could this mark the beginning of a long, healthy SEC West rivalry?
Texas A&M Aggies (Nov. 3, in Starkville)
• Conference: SEC
• 2011 record: 7-6 (4-5, 7th in Big 12)
• Final ranking: Not ranked
• Coach: Kevin Sumlin (first year)
• Returning starters: 15 (8 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist)
• Last meeting: MSU, 43-41 in OT (Dec. 31, 2000, in Shreveport)
• On the Web: aggieathletics.com
You look at Texas A&M’s numbers from last year, and you wonder how this team won only seven games. The Aggies averaged 39.1 points per game (11th nationally), 490.2 total yards per game (seventh), 291.1 passing yards per game (18th), and 199.2 rushing yards per game (24th). They allowed only nine sacks, and the offensive line committed only two holding penalties all season.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill turned in an outstanding season and became a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Ryan Swopes is closing in on some school receiving records (he’ll be a senior).
On defense, A&M allowed just 101.9 rushing yards per game (12th) and recorded 51 sacks, most in the country. So yeah, just how did this team win only seven games? Well, the Big 12 is a pass-happy conference, and the Aggies ranked 109th in the country against the pass, allowing 276.3 ypg. It’s the main reason they blew five double-digit leads in the second half. Those epic collapses were also aided by turnovers – A&M was minus-9 on the season in turnover margin, which tied for 106th in the country.
But that’s all behind it now. Texas A&M is in a new conference and has a new coach in Sumlin, with whom MSU is very familiar. He was previously at Houston, where he went 1-1 against the Bulldogs – Houston won in Starkville in 2009 (31-24), and then MSU won in Houston in 2010 (47-24). Last season, the Cougars went 13-1 and finished the year ranked 18th in the country by the AP.
Sumlin brings a different type of offense to College Station – a pass-heavy spread – but coordinator Kliff Kingsbury has said that whatever gives the offense the best chance of success is what he’ll do. A lot depends on how Tannehill’s replacement pans out, and right now it looks to be sophomore Jameill Showers, who’s got an edge over redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. Showers has a strong arm, good size (6-foot-2, 219 pounds) and is mobile.
The running game should remain strong, especially if Christine Michael can stay healthy. He rushed for 899 yards in nine games last season before an ACL injury sidelined him. Michael will run behind what’s expected to be a very strong offensive line.
Defensively, A&M is switching to a 4-3 look under defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. The defensive line is led by returning ends Damontre Moore (17.5 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks) and Spencer Nealy (45 tackles, 8.0 TFL), while the linebackers return three starters, including leading tackler Jonathan Stewart (98) and leading sack man Sean Porter (9.5).
But how ’bout that secondary, which was so horribly abused last season? The projected starters for 2012 combined for 11 starts last season, with strong safety Steven Campbell recording the most (five). He only played in six games, though, because of a leg injury. The Aggies recorded just seven interceptions last season, but this year’s crop of DBs could be better overall than last season’s.
As mentioned, this game is part of a very tough closing stretch for MSU. It will not be a cakewalk, and the Bulldogs will be coming off a very physical game (and probably a loss) the week before against Alabama. This is one of those games State can’t lose if it’s wanting to take this program to a higher level. Sumlin has familiarity with the Bulldogs and Dan Mullen‘s schemes, and MSU likewise with him, so between that and the memory of Shreveport, the groundwork for a good rivalry is already in place.