STARKVILLE – Mississippi State is 2-2 in a season it could, and likely should, be 4-0.
MSU is seventh in the nation in time of possession and sixth in passing yards, but it ranks 60th in the FBS for red zone offense.
Defensively, State is No. 17 in red zone defense, yet it has a knack for allowing big plays.
Mike Leach knows Texas A&M (3-1) is a program with high expectations this season and will be on a mission to be near-perfect following a loss to Arkansas last weekend.
But Leach also knows Mississippi State has its own mistakes to fix, so he’s not worried about the motivation behind his upcoming opponent.
“Everybody is dealing with something,” Leach said Monday. “They’re gonna want to win, and so do we. You don’t really focus on the other guy as much as yourself. Anything that you want to solve, that’s all within yourself.”
Saturday will provide what could likely be Mississippi State’s toughest road test at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas – a place known to be rocking on game days.
From his near-decade spent coaching at Texas Tech, Leach has ample experience playing there.
Leach is 7-4 in his career against Texas A&M including a 27-14 loss in Starkville last season.
“It’s a great place to play,” Leach said. “It’s loaded. It’s loud, and it’s pretty hostile. It’s a blast. College Station has one of the best stadiums to play in, in the country.”
Texas A&M’s woes
Texas A&M entered the season predicted by many to be the lone team in the SEC West to compete with Alabama.
An injury to starting quarterback Haynes King, an uninspiring win at Colorado and a loss at Arkansas — a team projected to finish toward the bottom of the SEC West in the preseason polls — last week have significantly shifted expectations for Texas A&M.
The Aggies barely crack the top-80 in Pro Football Focus’ offensive grades this season, but their defense provides enough to keep their team at No. 15 in the latest AP poll.
“The looks are nothing really that special,” Leach said. “Their personnel is. They’ve played a lot.”
Nine of Texas A&M’s defensive starters are upperclassmen.
Tackling is the lone spot on defense where PFF sees some flaws, but in terms of coverage, pressure and run defense, few teams can matchup against the Aggies.
Mississippi State’s defense productive but flawed
Leach has compared MSU’s defense to its offense in the sense that he feels both are good but have made a few costly mistakes per game.
LSU earned more than half its passing yards on four plays of 20-or-more yards.
In the third quarter, a long touchdown resulted in MSU safeties Collin Duncan and Shawn Preston staring at each other while an LSU receiver strolled into the end zone.
It’s a situation that has been too common for a Mississippi State defense the makes few mistakes elsewhere and expects to have better depth at safety this season.
“Big plays haunt us,” Leach said. “We gotta get better at safety — whether we need to simplify something or what. Our safeties can’t miss some of the things they’re missing. I also would like to see up front get home a little more.”
Leach didn’t comment on the status of starting corner Emmanuel Forbes who was carted off after running into teammate Fred Peters against LSU.
Sophomore Decamerion Richardson would step in if Forbes is out for any stretch of time. Richardson appeared in seven games last season.
Through four games this year, Richardson’s lone tackle came in Week 1 against Louisiana Tech after allowing a late fourth-and-11 conversion.
“He’s still emerging,” Leach said of Richardson. “I think he’s doing a good job. We want to see if we can get more and more out of him.”