We're in for quite the clash when No. 12 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0 SEC) hosts No. 6 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0) Saturday afternoon. We have two great quarterbacks, two entertaining and productive running games and two defenses that we really don't know what to expect from.
Sounds fun to me! Let's break it down:
Texas A&M's key to victory: First and foremost, the Aggies have to get a handle on Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and limit the Bulldogs' big plays. Prescott is a good decision-maker and runs the Bulldogs' offense -- which is full of read-option, play-action, misdirection and more -- flawlessly. Staying disciplined defensively is critical for A&M. Offensively, this Mississippi State secondary seems ripe for the picking so the Aggies simply need to do what they do -- have Kenny Hill sling the ball around to their big, fast receivers and keep the tempo high. One thing to keep an eye on is offensive line play. The Aggies had some hiccups, especially on the right side of the offensive line, against Arkansas. Mississippi State is big on the defensive front. -- Sam Khan
Mississippi State's key to victory: Like the Aggies, the Bulldogs have to control that guy slinging the ball around for Texas A&M. Hill leads the SEC with 1,745 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. He's coming off a strong comeback performance against Arkansas, and he's challenging Prescott for the title of the SEC's best quarterback. That isn't a good mixture for a Bulldogs' defense that hasn't been great against the pass this year. Mississippi State is last in the SEC in pass defense, allowing teams to throw for 319 yards per game and get 7.6 yards per attempt. Things have to tighten up in the secondary. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Texas A&M leads the SEC in 20-plus-yard receptions, while Mississippi State's defense is tied for 11th in the SEC defending those passes. What's more is that Texas A&M averages an FBS-high 3.9 points per drive this season, and the Aggies have 340 more yards after the catch than any other SEC team. They are averaging 8.0 yards after the catch per reception (fourth in SEC), according to ESPN Stats & Information. -- Edward Aschoff
Texas A&M's X-factor: Linebacker play. Facing an offense like this means making the right decision, whether it's chasing the quarterback, running back or filling the proper gap. This could be a big game for weakside linebacker Shaan Washington, who has been an impact player since returning from a collarbone injury. Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni will need to have a big game, and communication is key for this group as they decipher what the Bulldogs throw at them.- - Sam Khan
Mississippi State's X-factor: While I think the defense has to be able to shut down Hill, if this game gets into a shootout, the Bulldogs have to be able to run the ball and try to get A&M's defense tired. That's where wrecking ball running back Josh Robinson comes into play. Robinson has 485 rushing yards on the season and is averaging 7.8 yards per carry. He gashed LSU"s defense for a career-high 197 yards and then got two weeks to recoup for the Aggies, who surrendered 285 yards to Arkansas' running game last week. -- Edward Aschoff
Playoff impact: The winner will be in a good spot (especially if it's Texas A&M, given its No. 6 ranking). However, there is still a lot of season left. Both of these squads have challenging games left against Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss, but a win here strengthens the case for either team. On the flip side, this isn't an "elimination game" per se for either team since it's beginning to look like the SEC will have a solid shot at getting two teams in. But considering what's on the schedule, it's best to take care of business, especially the Bulldogs, who are currently outside the top 10. -- Sam Khan