Within the Southeastern Conference, the grind never ends, and Saturday, two divisional foes in Texas A&M and Mississippi State will face off in hopes of earning another win in league play.
As A&M approaches the end of its season, Mississippi State remains its easiest test, but the Bulldogs still present a tough challenge for the Aggies. Under sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel, A&M needs to win out to have a shot at a top-tier bowl and impress in each of those wins to have any inkling of a possible BCS berth.
From Mississippi State's perspective sitting at 4-4 (1-3 SEC), A&M represents another win on the road to a bowl game, as the Bulldogs still sit two games short with the Aggies, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss left on the schedule.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013
Location: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
Radio: Texas A&M Sports Network
Spread: Texas A&M currently stands as a 19.5-point favorite over Mississippi State, per Vegas Insider.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
Divide and Conquer
The Aggies' offensive workload has long been shouldered by sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel, but considering A&M's stable of talented running backs, diversifying the attack would suit the Aggies against a team such as Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs defense is "one of the biggest" A&M has faced this season, according head coach Kevin Sumlin, and forcing it to worry about both the Aggies' rushing and passing attacks would be a solid first step to outpacing Mississippi State.
Since taking over the starting role, MSU quarterback Dak Prescott has proven to be effective in both the pocket and when scrambling. The past two games, the Aggies defensive line has generated solid pressure, and continuing that tradition will be vital in shutting down Prescott early and often.
The Aggies have generated seven turnovers over the course of the past two games, as opposed to 11 during the six games prior. Against Mississippi State, creating a similar turnover margin will be vital to downing the Bulldogs.
Utilize Prescott's Two-Dimensional Attack
After taking over for Tyler Russell under center earlier this season, Prescott's size, speed and arm strength have proven versatile for the Bulldogs offense. For head coach Dan Mullen and Mississippi State, finding ways through designed runs, play-action passes or five-step drops for Prescott to demonstrate his range will be key to breaking down the Aggies defense.
Considering the season Manziel is currently having, shutting down the sophomore is out of the question. Containing him, though, may be possible with the right pressure and coverage schemes and should be the main goal of the Mississippi State defense throughout the game.
Keep Offensive Pace
The Aggies offense enjoys scoring early and scoring often, meaning it will be a vital for the Mississippi State offense to attempt to keep up in order to have any shot down the stretch of the game.
QB Johnny Manziel
Considering Manziel's impact on this A&M squad the past two seasons, he's difficult to ignore, especially for Mississippi State. The sophomore quarterback ripped the Bulldogs last season at home, helping A&M to an undisputed victory. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will continue to remain at the center of attention for the Aggies, particularly with the teams playing on national television on Saturday.
DB Howard Matthews
Over the past two weeks, Matthews has been essential for the A&M defense, racking up a team-best three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. Additionally, Matthews leads the team in tackles and has been a consistent threat in the secondary all season.
Mississippi State will mark A&M's final home game of the season and will be Senior Day for 13 athletes on the A&M roster, including eight consummate starters on this year's squad.
QB Dak Prescott
The sophomore quarterback took over the starting role midway through this season for senior Tyler Russell and hopes to help the Bulldogs into bowl position with a win over the Aggies on Saturday. Prescott's duel-threat ability remains dangerous and will be a vital factor for Mississippi State down the stretch of the season.
WR Jameon Lewis
Playing out of the slot, Lewis has created space with his speed thus far into the season. He leads the team in all receiving categories, and his intelligence and knack for finding space in a defense will be a decisive key for the Bulldogs against the Aggies.
DE Preston Smith
Smith has been vital for the Mississippi State defense all season, generating a team-high six tackles for loss and two sacks. With Manziel in the opposing pocket this Saturday, Smith's talent for pressure will serve as a key throughout the game.
Senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. discussed this year's graduating senior class and the emotional impact of playing their final game in Kyle Field.
"I feel like this senior class, we lost a few guys, but as a whole we have a lot of seniors that worked hard and were dedicated to being leaders on the field," Hurd said. "It'll be very emotional. My family will be out here, it’ll be my last outing on Kyle Field. I just want to be remembered for the things that I did here."
Meanwhile, A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin spoke on sophomore running back Tra Carson's recovery after receiving a sprained neck against UTEP last Saturday.
"The official diagnosis was a sprained neck, which sounds painful," Sumlin said. "But was never as bad as we thought. [Carson] was never unconscious, he was never without feeling. Those are good signs. He was in a neck brace [on Monday], and he's improved today, so we'll see."
Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney expressed his appreciation for having junior offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi back after he sat out a two-game stint with an undisclosed injury, especially with Mississippi State's "big" defensive line matching up against the Aggies on Saturday.
"You always want those five guys that have played together, know each other's tendencies," McKinney said. "If one guy steps one way, he expects the guy to be right beside him. Those guys are our starting unit that have played together, it'll be exciting to have [Ogbuehi] back this week to play that defensive line."
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Mississippi State 28
The matchup will present challenges for the Aggies, especially early on, but a surge to either close the first half or open the second will help A&M separate itself from the Bulldogs down the stretch. The key component for the win will be Manziel's ability to keep drives alive throughout the game, allowing the Aggies defense time to recover after ground-and-pound series against Prescott and the Bulldogs offense.