Following each loss, Logan Lowery of the Daily Journal will give his opinion and grade out each position group for Mississippi State.
Overview: Mississippi State played once of its best offensive games of the year on Saturday but the one thing you don’t want to do is get in a shootout against Texas A&M. The Bulldogs defense played really well against the run but the pass coverage left a lot to be desired. Special teams were a disaster in nearly every phase.
It was the second straight loss for MSU and drops it below .500 on the year. All five losses have come to teams currently ranked in the top 18. Each of the losses is a result of a different breakdown. This time it was the special teams and the Bulldogs have also struggled with turnovers, third down offense, two-minute defense and breakdowns in the secondary.
Quarterbacks: C+ Tyler Russell started but it was Dak Prescott who received most of the reps during the game. Both quarterbacks fared okay completing 22 of 40 passes for 226 yards, three touchdowns and an interception but most passes were short, easy completions. Prescott threw two touchdowns but had most of his success on the ground rushing 16 times for a career-high 154 yards. He did throw an interception and was brought down for the only sack.
Running backs: B- LaDarius Perkins, Josh Robinson and Ashton Shumpert all received carries combining for 144 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. Robinson led the backs with 73 yards on six carries including a 51-yard score. Perkins had a rushing and receiving touchdown while Shumpert averaged eight yards on two carries. I really liked the triangle formation the Bulldogs used on occasion and really think it’s best run with Prescott in the game.
Wide receivers: C- De’Runnya Wilson had a breakout type of game with seven catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Fred Brown reemerged with three catches after not having a catch since Sept. 7. The rest of the receivers didn’t do much to brag about. In fact, Joe Morrow and Brandon Holloway had a couple of crucial drops. Leading receiver Jameon Lewis did not have an offensive touch until the fourth quarter.
Tight ends: D- The tight ends group did not have a single catch on Saturday. The only reason that group did not receive a failing grade is I saw Malcolm Johnson make several good blocks on the edge. State’s offense runs at its best when the tight ends get involved in the passing game. I saw Rufus Warren get wide open for what would have been big gains and the quarterback never even looked his way.
Offensive line: A- Texas A&M’s defensive line isn’t anything special but the Bulldogs o-line did their thing on Saturday. The Aggies did not get much pressure on the quarterback and only had one sack. The offensive line opened up holes for 299 yards on the ground which was the fifth most in an SEC game under Dan Mullen.
Defensive line: B- Mississippi State’s defensive line combined for 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Chris Jones led the d-line with three tackles. P.J. Jones notched his first career sack and Preston Smith combined with linebacker Benardrick McKinney on a sack as well. Ryan Brown got good pressure on Johnny Manziel on his first touchdown throw flushing him out of the pocket and likely would have had a sack but was held by right tackle Cedric Ogbuehl which went did not draw a flag.
Linebackers: B- MSU was down leading tackler Deontae Skinner during the game with a sprained neck. McKinney and Matthew Wells led the team in tackles with six apiece. McKinney also had 1.5 sacks. Benequez Brown filled in for Skinner and had four tackles and Christian Holmes made his return to defense making five tackles. As a unit, the linebacking corps combined for 26 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Secondary: D+ Manziel abused the secondary all day by scrambling and extending plays long enough for his receivers to get open for huge gainers down the field. The Aggies ended the game with 30 catches for 446 yards and five touchdowns through the air. The positives for State were three interceptions (two by Jamerson Love, one by Nickoe Whitley) and a huge pass deflection by Taveze Calhoun.
Special teams: F This was the worst all-around special teams performance I’ve seen since Mullen arrived. The Bulldogs had a punt blocked for a safety, a field goal blocked, were penalized for roughing the punter and gave up a 97-yard kickoff return that only wasn’t a touchdown because the returner flipped into the end zone. Lewis finally had positive yardage on punt returns this season. Special teams have been a disaster all season and Mullen might have to evaluate how he handles that role at the end of the year.
Coaching: C+ According to Mullen the defensive game plan was to take the run away from the Aggies and make Manziel beat them with his arm. If that was the case then mission accomplished. Mississippi State only surrendered 91 yards on the ground and held the Aggies 46 yards below their offensive total average. I still think the offense needs to take more shots downfield in the passing game and I’d expect them to with Wilson improving weekly. Special teams need lots and lots of work.