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

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

The Battalion

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Seeking payback

Photo by FILE

Saturday’s matchup against Mississippi State will be the third straight night game at Kyle Field. 

It’s been nearly a full calendar year, but the Texas A&M defense still vividly remembers then sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald sprinting 74 yards on Mississippi State’s first offensive play from scrimmage in what began the Bulldogs 35-28 upset victory over the fourth-ranked Aggies.
“I’ve watched it a couple of times. It’s still lingering in our minds,” sophomore linebacker Tyrel Dodson said. “We’re all mad going into this game, and that’s how we’re going to play.”
Mississippi State comes to Kyle Field for a Saturday night kickoff to face an A&M team who is coming off a bye week after defeating Florida 19-17 in a physical back-and-forth slugfest on Oct. 14.
The Bulldogs (5-2, 2-2 SEC) are led by junior Fitzgerald, who gashed the A&M defense for 182 yards on the ground, 209 yards through the air and four total touchdowns last year. The 6-5, 230-pound dual-threat signal-caller presents a myriad of challenges for an Aggie defense that has been excellent in recent weeks.
“We know that we have our hands full with Nick Fitzgerald, so our main focus is to eliminate big plays, maintain gap integrity and play physical football,” Dodson said. “He’s so big, he’s fast and he’s the heart and soul of that entire Mississippi State team. We’ve got to bring it to him.”
A&M leads the nation with 28 sacks, while the Bulldogs have yielded the fewest sacks in the SEC to this point. A lot of that is due to Fitzgerald’s strength and mobility, but the Bulldogs also boast a big, physical offensive line that has allowed just three sacks through seven games.
Defensively, Mississippi State ranks third in the SEC in total defense. Last year the Bulldogs held Aggie running backs to 3.7 yards per carry and first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will likely try to make A&M one-dimensional again this season.
“We already know that they’re going to try to stop the run game and make the quarterback make quick decisions,” said senior running back Keith Ford. “We’re ready for it, we already know what they’re going to do and we just have to execute our game plan.”­
If the Aggies (5-2, 3-1 SEC) struggle to get the ground game going, the pressure will be on freshman quarterback Kellen Mond, who is coming off a pedestrian 8-for-24, 180-yard performance against the Gators. He did gain a team-leading 52 rushing yards, though, and he might have to make plays with his legs again, if the Aggies are going to end.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin did announce at Tuesday’s press conference that redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Starkel, who had surgery to repair a fractured ankle he suffered against UCLA, will be available to backup Mond. Sumlin also said offensive tackle Keaton Sutherland should return after missing the Florida game with an appendectomy.
Getting back Sutherland, who has been one of the Aggies’ best offensive linemen this season, would be a valuable addition to a unit that was porous at times against Florida.
The Bulldogs have been up-and-down so far this season. They moved up to No. 17 in the AP poll after dismantling LSU in the third week of the season, but followed that up with back-to-back lopsided losses to Georgia and Auburn, only to rebound with two straight convincing victories.
“They’re extremely well-coached offensively, defensively and special teams wise they’ve blocked a lot of punts,” Sumlin said of MSU State. “They’re always going to have good team speed and be physical, so it’s going to be a really big challenge for us.”
The Aggies will hope to avoid the late-season struggles that have become common in recent years. They have put themselves in a good place in the SEC standings, but with games against Auburn and LSU still on the schedule, getting a win over the Bulldogs is crucial for A&M.
“I don’t know that we’ve been successful yet,” Sumlin said. “We’re just at midseason — there’s a lot of football to go.”
Kickoff between the Aggies and Bulldogs is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.

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