Tonight, much like last week, had a feel that things could go very right or very wrong with a tough road game. Given how State played in College Station two years ago, I was weary, and that weariness proved to be accurate as Mississippi State lost a frustrating, strain-inducing 30-17 game to the Texas A&M Aggies tonight.
It's hard to know where to start on this one, so let's scattershot a few points that are rattling around in my brain right now:
- Fast starts are the only way we'll ever survive and advance in an SEC road game. State came out flat tonight, and were never able to get back in it. The weirdest thing about it is that the defense drastically woke up about the third or fourth drive. Where were they the first two drives when A&M marched with ease? Weird.
- Outside of a few spots in the first half, I thought the defense played pretty well. They held A&M to six total points in the second half, which honestly only compounded the frustration, because the offense did nothing with those stops. Several times I don't think the defense got a good seat on the bench before State was punting again.
- This is a shoulda-woulda-coulda game if there ever was one, but if you reverse one of the fumbles and Dak hits Gabe Myles on that wide open pass early in the game, man, is this one probably different.
- The injury bug finally bit us. Seriously, it feels like it's been a long time since we've said that. Not looking forward to hearing the prognoses on Monday on a few of them.
- Prediction? Pain touched on this last week, but MSU continues to lack in forced turnovers. Every time it felt like you could use one tonight, A&M would find a way to get one or two yards past the sticks.
- I saw a lot of complaints, frustrations and/or concerns after last week about the lack of a running game. Well, I guess Dan does read the MSU internet, because he forcibly inserted more run into the playcalling tonight. While Dak quietly had a more Dak-like (think 2014), balanced game tonight, it also forced the game to feel plodding and herky jerky. Last week when MSU was rolling (and against LSU in that second half), it felt smooth. Tonight felt like starting a lawn mower that hadn't been serviced in years. So much of that was because we went with weird personnel a few times. The Brandon Holloway run up the middle campaign. Malik Dear scores an electric touchdown then doesn't touch the ball again for almost another half (actually, did he pull up lame after that score? Later on, I thought I heard the announcers mention that he had been sidelined. That would certainly make more sense.)
- Dak Prescott is absolutely a threat on every play with his legs. But when we force -- and I cannot emphasize the word force enough -- the Dak run plays, it doesn't work. The prime example of such was late in the game, under five minutes to play, and we're down two scores. What does Dan dial up on second down? Read play. Third and six with the clock running? A Dak draw. And 10,000 State fans simultaneously pull their hair out with me. What's weird is that since the Auburn game last year, it's like Dan can't find the right balance of dialing Dak up on design run plays. He forced it against Alabama and Ole Miss last year, then against LSU this year it's like he drew an invisible line at the line of scrimmage and said "don't cross, even to scramble". We've got to find a better way to get into the groove offensively, because tonight's game plan won't hold up well in that final four game stretch in November. Finding the Dak run balance is absolutely at the center of that effort.
- There is good news, State fans, and it's that we head back home for three should-be wins at home. You never count them until the final horn sounds, but State should at least be 6-2 when it enters the final stretch of Missouri, Bama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss in November.