Did LSU and Texas A&M Benefit from Catching Mississippi State Early?


Oct 24, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs players celebrate after the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State won 42-16 Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

So much of how a season unfolds will often be about who you play and when you play them. Mississippi State only has control over when they play their four nonconference games each season. The games played in the SEC are determined by the League Office.

One of the advantages some teams have in beating blue blood programs around the country is often to play then early in the season if they are replacing a lot of experienced players. But this might be true of the Mississippi State Bulldogs as well in 2015.

Mississippi State entered 2015 coming off of one of the best seasons in the school’s history. But the Bulldogs lost a significant portion of their starters on the offense, and they lost nearly everyone of the defensive starters. Mullen insisted, and Bulldog fans echoed his sentiments, that the Bulldogs would be fine because the players were experienced even if they weren’t starters.

The early season results were mixed. There were times the offensive line looked lost and there were times when they seemed to be fine. The running backs have yet to step up and make plays. Then the defense struggled to make tackles at times.

Fast forward to the past three games. Many of the issues seemed to have corrected themselves. The offensive line play is far better than it was the first three to five games. The defense has started tackling, and they are beginning to force turnovers, something the Bulldogs did only on rare occasions early in the season. The running game is still pathetic, and it might stay that way, but two out of three ain’t bad.

If you look at how the games against LSU and Texas A&M unfolded, some of the issues which crippled the Bulldogs chances at getting wins were playing right into the strengths of the the Tigers and Aggies. Mississippi State might have been able to correct these issues had they played some of the weaker nonconference games on the schedule first.

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Against LSU, the Bulldogs were up against the Heisman Trophy front runner in running back Leonard Fournette. Considering what we have seen from Fournette in 2015, holding the Hesiman Trophy leader to the 160+ yards they did doesn’t seem so bad. But if the team had begun tackling the way they are now, they might have held Fournette further in check. The offensive line struggled to block the LSU pass rush, especially in the first half, and it led to Dak Prescott running for his life on many occasions. Dak Prescott might have been able to make more plays had he not felt so much pressure from the LSU pass rush.

The same was true of the game in College Station against Texas A&M. Mississippi State missed a number of tackles against the Aggies, and many of those missed tackles kept scoring drives alive. And the offensive line had no chance blocking Myles Garrett.

While there is no certainty if Mississippi State could have produced better results had they played those two teams earlier, it is at least a possibility. We’ll have a better idea of how true this theory is in the month of November when the Bulldogs jump back into the SEC grind.