Mississippi State has only made two trips to College Station, Texas, under Dan Mullen and both have involved disappointment.
In 2013, MSU lost 51-41 with sophomore Dak Prescott playing his first game since the loss of his mother, Peggy. The 2015 season saw similar results with a 30-17 win for the Aggies.
Kyle Field has just become a tough place to play with over 102,000 people on hand to make the 12th man a reality. The stadium will be packed again Saturday as A&M (5-2, 3-1) hosts a key SEC West battle against the Bulldogs (5-2, 2-2).
“It’s a great environment,” Mullen said of Kyle Field. “There’s a lot of history and great tradition. It’s another great venue that the conference has that makes the SEC so special.”
A&M is a much different team than they were at the start of the season. The Aggies ran out to a 38-10 lead at UCLA before starting quarterback Nick Starkel went down with a broken ankle. They lost the game with true freshman Kellen Mond taking over at quarterback.
Since that time, A&M has reeled off five wins in its last six games with the one loss a respectable 27-19 defeat to No. 1 Alabama. A lot of that is due to the progression of Mond, who has thrown for 1,225 yards and seven touchdowns and run for another 318 yards and three scores.
“They have a quarterback who is not really much of a freshman anymore,” Mullen said. “He’s explosive but you can see he’s starting to grow as someone that can throw it.
“He’s started a bunch of games. This will be his sixth game as a starter and I think that when you’re a starter at the quarterback position, you’re starting to get those reps that make you different than our guys are able to get. (MSU freshman quarterback Keytaon Thompson) played well on Saturday but I think he only played nine plays. He’s growing but it’s accelerated when you’re a starter.”
MSU had two linemen garner weekly awards on Monday.
Junior right guard Deion Calhoun was named the SEC’s Offensive Lineman of the Week and junior defensive end Montez Sweat was the Defensive Lineman of the Week, the league announced on Monday.
Calhoun helped pave the wave for a big day on the ground for MSU against the SEC’s third best rushing defense. MSU had 282 yards rushing in the game with four touchdowns led by Nick Fitzgerald’s 110 yards and two scores. Calhoun and the line also produced its fifth game in seven tries without a sack surrendered.
Fitzgerald gave a lot of the credit to the offensive line’s production this season to Calhoun.
“He’s played several positions on the line and knows the offense. Being able to help the young guy (Stewart Reese) next to him has been huge,” Fitzgerald said. “I think he played a great game last week and I hope he continues that.”
Sweat also had a big day on the other side of the line garnering a career-high seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He is playing in his first season at MSU after transferring from Co-Lin Community College by way of Michigan State.
The Bulldogs are relatively healthy heading into this week’s game, or at least as healthy as they’ve been in several weeks.
Mullen mentioned that State should be getting senior left tackle Martinas Rankin back this week for the first time since the Auburn loss. Rankin has been dealing with a high ankle sprain and missed the last two games recovering.
There’s also a chance that junior defensive tackle Cory Thomas returns after missing five games with a foot injury. He was dressed out on Saturday but did not play as the Bulldog coaches rested him for one more week.
The same could be said for wide receiver Keith Mixon who missed the Kenutcky game with an injury but dressed out. All of those players are expected to play this week according to Mullen, but they’ll handle them carefully during practice.
“We’re hoping this week to get a bunch of guys back,” Mullen said. “We’ll see this week how that all pans out. I don’t know that many of those guys will practice (Monday).”
Who: Mississippi State vs. Texas A&M
When: 6:15 p.m., Saturday
Where: College Station, Texas
Radio: WPMO 1580-AM