Home field advantage is important to Mississippi State.
In SEC home games against LSU and Kentucky, the Bulldogs won those contests by a combined score of 82-14. Their two road games were the opposite end, losing to Georgia and Auburn by a combined score of 80-17.
Saturday night at Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1 SEC) will determine whether or not that is a trend. MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald noticed his team plays with much different comfort on the road but hoping that changes.
“Road games, we’ve kind of gotten out of character, gotten a lot of penalties and false starts. We’ve not been handling he environment very well,” Fitzgerald said. “I think a lot has changed since those two games and now.”
The Bulldogs (5-2, 2-2 SEC) haven’t won at Kyle Field in coach Dan Mullen’s tenure and only won once in 1913. In the two previous trips to A&M, the Bulldogs were simply out-matched by the Aggies and took double digit losses.
While A&M has underperformed down the stretch under Kevin Sumlin, it isn’t by lack of talent. The program currently sits No. 15 nationally in team talent per 247Sports Composite rankings and have three 5-star players with 29 4-stars. By comparison, MSU is ranked No. 25 with just one 5-star and 15 4-stars on the roster.
The biggest stars for Sumlin are on offense, led by electric playmaker Christian Kirk. The junior receiver has 360 receiving yards and over 380 return yards on the year with six total touchdowns.
“One thing is he always has great athletes out there on the field, big play-making guys,” Mullen said. “When you’re playing them, you’ve got to be ready to play for four quarters. They can always score, and can always score in a hurry.”
While A&M has a wealth of talent at wide receiver, the Bulldogs have struggled at the position. Most of that is due to the lack of a big-play threat and receiver with size. That could change with the tight ends getting more involved.
Six-foot-five, 280-pound tight end Jordan Thomas has emerged as a threat on the outside. Along with Farrod Green and Justin Johnson, they could help MSU get the ball down the field.
“We play all three tight ends a bunch. That’s one of the few positions we’ve been healthy at this year,” Mullen said. “For us, that helps to be able to move those guys around to different spots and put them in a position to be effective.”
Those players might also be helpful blocking as A&M boasts the nation’s top sack defense.
Led by linebacker Otaro Alaka’s five sacks, the unit has corralled the quarterback 28 times this year and leads the country with four sacks per game. MSU’s offensive line has only surrendered three sacks all year.
Mullen expects the group to get after Fitzgerald on Saturday.
“They’ve got great athletes, they attack you well and they transition well from run to pass,” Mullen said of the Aggies’ defensive line. “They can fit the run and get into a pass-rush mode. Within their scheme and their style, what they do is they get you behind the chains.”
Who: Mississippi State vs. Texas A&M
When: 6:15 p.m., Saturday
Where: College Station, Texas
Radio: WPMO 1580-AM