While the majority of the SEC and the country will be focused on Baton Rouge this weekend and the battle between No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 LSU, the game that will take place in Starkville, Miss. will carry significant postseason ramifications as well.
Texas A&M will roll into Starkville with a No. 16 ranking, and as seven-point favorites (via VegasInsider.com) over the homestanding and No. 15 Mississippi State Bulldogs.
We found out last weekend that the Bulldogs were more a product of an easy early-season schedule rather than a legitimate threat, after they were thrashed 38-7 by the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. However, there's no shame in getting beat by Alabama. Nick Saban's crew carries the No. 1 ranking for a reason.
Last week wasn't an indicator that Mississippi State is the "same ole Mississippi State." How they respond to the loss this week vs. the Aggies and next week vs. LSU will determine that.
Can the Bulldogs do it?
They'll have to protect quarterback Tyler Russell better than they did last week.
Russell was only sacked once, but he was pressured by the Crimson Tide front seven all night to the tune of nine quarterback hurries, which disrupted the flow of the Bulldog offense.
Everyone focuses on the strength of A&M's offense, but the defense isn't half-bad either. Mark Snyder's crew has sacked opposing quarterbacks 26 times, which is second-most in the SEC. The leader of that attack is defensive end Damontre Moore, who leads the SEC with 10.5 sacks—two more than Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Moore dropped down from outside linebacker to defensive end before this season, and that move has paid off tremendously for himself and the Aggies.
His draft stock has soared all the way up to the No. 4 spot on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's "Big Board," and he's a big reason why the Aggies have shed themselves of the "soft" label that came with them to the SEC.
Mississippi State has only given up seven sacks all season, even though Russell was pressured quite a bit last week. The Bulldogs are going to have to limit the impact of Moore to give its offense a chance of springing the upset.
To beat the Aggies, you have to keep the ball out of Johnny Manziel's hands, and keeping Moore at bay is the key to do that. Russell has been efficient at the quarterback spot and LaDarius Perkins has been a pleasant surprise at running back, but if you play behind the sticks, more times than not, you will get beat.
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