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No. 16 Texas A&M gears for Fitzgerald, State ground game

With seven games in the rearview mirror, two SEC West foes that have taken some lumps square off Saturday night when No. 16 Texas A&M visits Mississippi State.

The matchup pits an Aggies’ team that has gotten off the mat after losses to the current top two teams in the country and a Bulldogs’ crew trying to do the same.

A&M (5-2, 3-1 SEC) has quietly pieced together an impressive three-game run after falling to Clemson (28-26) and Alabama (45-23) in a three-week span. The Aggies were off last week and should be rested for the second of three straight league road games.

Aggies relying on D

To stay hot, the Aggies will have to lean on a stout defense. A&M ranks first in SEC games only in rush defense (77.5 yards allowed per game) and fourth in total defense (312.2 ypg).

The Bulldogs can test any defense with a Nick Fitzgerald-led offense that is almost exclusively ground-oriented. State’s quarterback has rushed for 378 yards in four conference games (644 overall) with seven touchdowns. He ran the ball 23 times against LSU last week for 131 yards after carrying 28 times for 195 yards in a 23-9 victory against Auburn.

That’s the good news. On the flip side, Fitzgerald is coming off a dismal passing performance in a 19-3 loss at LSU: 8 for 24 for 59 yards with four interceptions.

“We continue to run the ball well, but we have to find a way to complement the pass game and keep defenses honest,” first-year Bulldogs’ coach Joe Moorehead said.

“We cannot rely solely on the run game to drive the length of the field, because as a play-caller it makes it very tough.”

Mond in a groove

The Aggies’ resurgence has resulted in part from the opposite effect. Quarterback Kellen Mond has gotten comfortable enough to create big strikes in the passing game, including vs. South Carolina when he passed for 353 yards on 25 completions.

With Mond in a groove, A&M has posted the SEC’s second-best passing offense in league games with 260.8 yards a game.

Tight end Jace Sternberger has been a major weapon for Mond and the Aggies and comes in with 29 catches for 496 yards six TDs – leading the team in each category. He has at least one reception for 20-plus yards in every game.

Sternberger has embraced a role as a leader for A&M.

“This is going to be a huge statement game for us to show that the past games weren’t a fluke, but after a bye week, we’re going to fix those small things and make a statement this week,” he said.

–Field Level Media

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