Starkville, MS (SportsNetwork.com) - A marquee SEC Western Division showdown is on tap for Saturday afternoon at Davis Wade Stadium, as the 12th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs play host to the sixth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies.
Texas A&M is 5-0 for the first time since 2001 and returned to SEC action last week with a thrilling 35-28 overtime victory over Arkansas to move to 2-0 in the league. Trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter, the Aggies scored a pair of touchdowns in the final frame, including the game-tying 59-yard score from Kenny Hill to Josh Reynolds, before taking care of business in the extra session to remain undefeated.
"What a heck of a game," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "I'm extremely proud of the effort of our older guys...those guys kind of epitomize what today's effort was about, and that's the kind of senior leadership that it's going to take in a league like this."
Mississippi State has been one of the nation's biggest surprises in the early going by opening up 4-0, which includes a signature upset victory at nationally-ranked LSU on Sept. 20 (34-29), which caused its jump from unranked all the way to No. 14 (then to No. 12 following a bye week). This is the Bulldogs' highest ranking in the Dan Mullen era and their highest since being No. 12 in November of 1999.
"We had a good bye week," Mullen said. "(We got) guys rested both physically and mentally. Obviously we're going to need that for this week's matchup. You look at a team coming in that's an unbelievable offensive football team...The fact we get this game at home is a huge plus for us."
This marks the first matchup of two top-15 teams at Davis Wade Stadium since 1986.
Texas A&M leads the all-time series with Mississippi State, 4-3, which includes wins in the only two meetings as SEC foes in 2012 (38-13) and 2013 (51-41).
The Aggies' offense has been nothing short of outstanding this season, with their 51.2 ppg and 594.6 ypg ranking second and third in the nation, respectively.
The squad is led by its Heisman hopeful under center Kenny Hill, who overcame a sluggish start to last week's game to finish with 386 yards and four touchdowns. He's completing 65.6 percent of his passes this season for 1,745 yards with 17 touchdowns to just two picks, while adding 136 rushing yards.
It can be argued that no one in the country has a deeper receiving corps than Texas A&M. Malcome Kennedy paces the group with 33 receptions and 378 yards. Ricky Seals-Jones (20 receptions, 221 yards, three TDs), Reynolds (16 receptions, 336 yards, five TDs), Edward Pope (16 receptions, 331 yards, four TDs) and Speedy Noil (13 receptions, 205 yards, TD) leave Hill no shortage of talented pass-catchers to rely on.
The running game is effective as well, as the team rushes for more than 190 yards per game on 6.1 yards per carry. Trey Williams (234 yards, four TDs), Tra Carson (185 yards, four TDs), Brandon Williams (158 yards, two TDs) and James White (138 yards, three TDs) are all worked in.
The Aggies have a strong defense to pair with their potent offense. The unit yields just 15.0 ppg and 376.4 ypg, although it has forced just four turnovers through five games.
Howard Matthews leads the charge with 34 tackles, while Myles Garrett is an excellent pass-rusher with 7.0 TFL and 5.5 sacks.
While Mississippi State's offense may not be as powerful as Texas A&M's, it has still been excellent with 41.2 ppg and 537.5 ypg. Mullen knows that if his squad has any hope in this game the offense will need to be up to the task in a potential shootout.
"(We're) going to have to manage the game and manage the tempo of the game," Mullen said of keeping up with A&M. "If (we) hold them just below their average, we'll have to score 50. Offensively, you know you're going to have to score points against them if you're going to beat them."
The Bulldogs have their own elite quarterback at the helm in Dak Prescott. While his passing numbers aren't quiet as gaudy as Hill's (.604 completions, 964 yards, 11 TDs, two INTs), he's been fantastic as a rusher with 378 yards and three touchdowns. In the win over LSU, Prescott put himself on the map with 373 total yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers.
Josh Robinson also busted loose in the LSU win, amassing a career-high 197 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries, giving him 485 yards and four touchdowns on the season.
Jameon Lewis is a unique multi-purpose talent. He leads the team in receiving (15 catches, 223 yards, TD), is a trusted return man (70 yards), has 33 rushing yards on three carries and even tossed a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Mississippi State employs a bend-but-don't-break style of defense, as it gives up 401.5 ypg yet only allows 16.5 ppg. Its nine takeaways are largely to thank for it.
Benardrick McKinney (27 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) is one of the SEC's best linebackers, while defensive lineman Preston Smith is making an early case for SEC Defensive Player of the Year by stuffing the stat sheet with 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and two blocked kicks. Will Redmond also has a pair of picks for the impressive unit.