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Cessna: Aggies’ subpar offensive showing vs. Mississippi State puts once promising season in limbo

October 30, 2017 GMT

What’s hot is talk about Kevin Sumlin’s future. What’s not is Texas A&M’s offense, the reason a promising season is in limbo after a 35-14 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday.

A&M had steadily moved forward since blowing a 34-point lead in a season-opening 45-44 loss to UCLA. It often wasn’t pretty but it was effective as the Aggies leaned on defense and special teams with just enough offense. That allowed A&M to win five of six with the lone loss a solid showing against top-ranked Alabama. The formula never had a chance against Mississippi State because the offense was awful. The defense wasn’t great, but A&M never had a chance to win because of the offense.

A&M had a season-low 285 yards, though that doesn’t tell the real story. The Aggies had only 116 yards through three quarters. They were offensively challenged from the get-go. A&M didn’t gain a yard on its first series, losing 5 yards on a motion penalty.

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The next time A&M touched the ball proved to be its best possession of the first half.

Senior running back Keith Ford picked up 5 yards on a pitch left, quarterback Kellen Mond threw out in the flat to junior Christian Kirk for 4 yards and Ford powered his way for a yard for the first down. Ford got 5 yards and Mond got another 7 for another first down. Sophomore running back Trayveon Williams rushed for 5 yards, crossing midfield, but Williams was then stopped for no gain on second down and Mond was sacked on third down, forcing a punt.

A&M didn’t run another play in Mississippi State territory until its second possession of the second half, and by then it trailed by 21 points. Mississippi State was able to stifle A&M’s offense by stopping the run and pressuring true freshman Mond. The Aggies had no answers. The offensive line missed too many blocks. Mond wasn’t sharp, but the receivers had 5-6 drops, one of which would have been a touchdown.

A&M made enough of those one-on-one plays to beat South Carolina, Arkansas and Florida and even hang with Alabama, but the Aggies didn’t make one Saturday until it trailed by three touchdowns.

It was puzzling considering the timing and opponent.

A&M had an extra week to prepare for Mississippi State, but it was the Aggies who couldn’t make plays on offense, and the defense was helpless as the sharp Bulldogs took complete control of the game with a 16-play, 86-yard drive for a 7-0 lead.

Mississippi State beating A&M wasn’t a surprise. A&M opened as a two-point favorite but the line immediately went in favor of Mississippi State by a point and a half, climbing to three and a half by kickoff.

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So the Bulldogs winning wasn’t a shocker. The surprise was the 21-point margin, the largest since the 59-0 loss at Alabama in 2014. It also was Sumlin’s most-lopsided home loss. That’s what hurts most. A&M still hasn’t been able to take back Kyle Field. The Aggies fed off the crowd in beating South Carolina and staying with Alabama but there was no buzz in the stands or on the field Saturday night. This is the seventh straight year the Aggies have lost at least two home games, and with 16th-ranked Auburn coming to town next week, A&M is staring at a three-loss home season for the third time in the last seven seasons.

Saturday’s disappointing loss coupled with the UCLA meltdown leaves the season and Sumlin’s tenure hanging in the balance.

Sumlin and A&M could have been sitting pretty at 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference with tons of momentum heading into November. Instead, the Aggies need to win four of their last five games to get to nine victories and move past three straight 8-5 seasons. That means A&M will have to beat either Auburn or 19th-ranked LSU, sweep New Mexico and Ole Miss and earn a bowl victory.

That’s a tall order for a team that had only six first downs in the first three quarters Saturday.