Mississippi State football claims first SEC win, cruises by No. 17 Texas A&M 42-24

STARKVILLE — Mike Leach has often found himself in the same room as Texas A&M. Leach, whose first notable coaching stint came at Texas Tech, enjoyed facing and beating A&M in the Big 12.

Now he's doing so in the SEC with a Mississippi State football team also holding momentum against its conference foe.

With a 42-24 win Saturday, MSU has won six of 11 and two straight against No. 17 Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1 SEC) since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. For Leach, the win was his ninth in 13 career matchups against the Aggies.

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Dunc and Duck

Neither team garnered much momentum in a scoreless first quarter, but the Aggies were first to strike in the second.

A&M, following a 20-yard punt return from Moose Muhammad III, started inside MSU territory. Behind a pair a big runs from Devon Achane, the Aggies were in the red zone.

That was until MSU safety Collin Duncan stripped the All-SEC hopeful running back on his third big run. Cornerback Decamerion Richardson recovered, giving Mississippi State the first major shift in momentum.

The offense responded with a crisp 11-play, 94-yard drive capped by a touchdown toss from quarterback Will Rogers to Caleb Ducking.

Carry momentum and close

Mississippi State (4-1, 1-1) went 70 yards on nine plays for another touchdown on its ensuing possession. This one came on a pass to Starkville native Rufus Harvey. With 58 seconds left in the first half, the Bulldogs led 14-0.

It was an eerily similar feel to MSU’s 13-0 lead at LSU two weeks ago. LSU cut into that lead with a 90-second touchdown drive to cut the deficit just before halftime.

With Texas A&M receiving the ball to open the second half, MSU’s defense couldn’t let a repeat of Baton Rouge occur. The Bulldogs nearly did.

Kicker Ben Raybon, going into the wind, allowed a chance for Achane to have a 42-yard return. The Aggies, behind two passes of 15-plus yards and a defensive pass interference, were quickly in the red zone.

But MSU’s defense shut down the drive with another forced fumble. This one came from redshirt-senior linebacker Nathaniel Watson on quarterback Max Johnson 16 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Oct 1, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) drops back in the pocket against the Texas A&M Aggies during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) drops back in the pocket against the Texas A&M Aggies during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams soar… again

Mississippi State’s special teams miscues have become a distant memory. Between Raybon’s 53-yard field goal against BGSU, the threat of Lideatrick Griffin on kickoff returns and Zavion Thomas’ production on punt returns, MSU’s special teams have become fun to watch.

The third phase reached a new height against A&M.

With momentum heavily favoring the Aggies in the third quarter, they trotted out kicker Randy Bond for a 44-yard attempt in hopes off trimming the deficit to eight.

Bond's kick was blocked by Emmanuel Forbes. Richardson scooped it up, evaded one tackle and, to the tune of cowbells clanging, scored MSU’s first touchdown off a blocked field goal since 2014.

Watson ejected for targeting

Eight plays after forcing a fumble, Mississippi State was left without Watson.

On a play early where MSU forced a turnover on downs to open the second half, Watson was called for targeting on a late and high hit on Johnson. He was disqualified for the remainder of the game.

Watson finished with six sacks and a sack, his third of the season.

Linebackers J.P. Purvis, John Lewish and Sherman Timbs picked up the workload in relief.

MSU plays shorthanded

Even before Watson’s departure, the Bulldogs were missing key players on both sides of the ball.

Defensive lineman Jaden Crumedy, who has yet to play this season with a left arm injury, was out again. Linebacker DeShawn Page, who posted Wednesday on Instagram he had surgery, was out as well.

Starting left tackle Kwatrivous Johnson didn’t play after suffering an injury in last week’s win against Bowling Green. Outside wide receiver Antonio Harmon wasn't in uniform.

Nick Jones filled in for Johnson while Steven Losoya took Jones’ usual spot at left guard. Georgia transfer Justin Robinson moved to the opposite outside receiver spot to fill in for Harmon as Ducking’s backup.

Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at skrajisnik@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @skrajisnik3.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi State football, Mike Leach cruise past No. 17 Texas A&M