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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M’s strong pass defense to be evenly matched by Mississippi State

Mike+Leachs+Air+Raid+offense+is+facing+off+against+the+Aggies+passing+defense%2C+the+fourth+best+in+the+nation.
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Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” offense is facing off against the Aggies’ passing defense, the fourth best in the nation.

This weekend brings a highly-anticipated SEC showdown.

No. 15 Texas A&M will host the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday, Oct. 2. Mike Leach’s high-powered passing attack will take on the stout A&M defense coordinated by Mike Elko. Leach debuted as the head coach and offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs in the 2020 season. His air raid offense was expected to revolutionize the team and bring a new dimension to the SEC, but quarterback controversies slowed down those lofty aspirations.

Stanford transfer and redshirt senior quarterback KJ Costello had a record-breaking debut for the Bulldogs against Alabama on Oct. 31, 2020, but disappointed in subsequent games. Against A&M last year, Costello was benched in favor of true freshman quarterback Will Rogers, who finished the season as the starter.

The Bulldogs finished 4-7 last season, passing for under 300 yards per game. Prior to the 2020 season, no Leach-led team had passed for under 300 yards per game since the 2000 Texas Tech Red Raiders. So far this season, the Air Raid offense has returned to form. Rogers, now a sophomore, is averaging over 360 passing yards per game through the first four games of the season. He has also completed over 75 percent of his passes and accounted for 11 passing touchdowns, compared to just two interceptions.

“You know [Mike Leach] is going to throw it,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Their receivers are athletic and long … it’s going to be a tough game.”

When you look beyond the passing game, however, the Bulldogs’ offense is flawed. Mississippi State averages under 63 yards rushing per game and struggles to finish drives. Despite averaging the sixth-most passing yards per game, the Bulldogs only average about 28 points. The team is also prone to penalties, accruing nine per game for an average of 64 yards. Redzone inefficiencies and penalties have been capping the Bulldogs’ offensive potential this year.

Coincidentally, the A&M defense mirrors the Mississippi State offense well. Despite a poor outing against Arkansas in Week 4, the A&M passing defense is elite. The Aggies allow less than 120 passing yards per contest, the fourth-best in the nation. Instead, A&M’s biggest struggle defensively has been stopping the rushing attack. A&M has the third-worst rushing defense in the SEC, allowing around 170 yards on the ground per game.

“This year we’ve been struggling a little bit on the run,” junior safety Demani Richardson said. “We just have to lock into coach Elko’s plan.”

Another strength of the A&M defense this season has been Elko and his ability to make halftime adjustments. The A&M defense has only allowed 10 second-half points through four games. Elko and the defense have been successful at adjusting on the fly to put the A&M offense in positions to win.

With a top-tier passing attack facing a top-tier passing defense, one side will have to give way. The key to an A&M victory will likely focus on slowing down Rogers and the passing game and forcing the Bulldogs to establish a consistent rushing attack. The path to a Mississippi State victory, however, may come from making early big plays in the passing game quickly enough to minimize the effects of Elko’s halftime adjustments.

“We have to lock in from the start,” Richardson said. “We just can’t allow the explosive plays and the big amount of yards from the early on. We just have to lock in and key in from the start.”

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