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Texas A&M Football

Wounded Aggies and injury-plagued Bulldogs meet on Saturday night

November 10, 2023
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So, you think you’ve got problems?

Texas A&M certainly does. The Aggies (5-4, 3-3) have lost three of their last four football games, are out of the SEC West divisional race and are ravaged by injuries.

Still, their problems aren’t as bad as those of Mississippi State (4-5, 1-5), which visits Kyle Field on Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. clash of walking wounded.

“It’s going to be a very tough game,” warned Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. “We need to play well. Get back in the groove. Flush that one from last week. Take what we did well and build on it. The inches we’ve got to find in the other phases, we’ve got to correct and move on.”

The first step to recovering from last week’s disappointing 38-35 loss to Ole Miss is recovering from injuries.

Quarterback Max Johnson, who replaced injured Conner Weigman, has sore ribs. Fisher said Johnson was able to practice during the week, so he may be able to start.

“We need to play well. Get back in the groove. Flush that one from last week. Take what we did well and build on it. The inches we’ve got to find in the other phases, we’ve got to correct and move on.”
- A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher

But if he can’t, the Aggies will turn to Fresno State transfer Jaylen Henderson, who has thrown eight passes in his collegiate career. The last one was in 2021. It was complete for a 5-yard gain.

The Aggies also have concerns about running back Le’Veon Moss, who had an early exit in last week’s 38-35 loss to Ole Miss. Receiver Evan Stewart didn’t play in that game. Neither did starting cornerbacks Tyreek Chappell and Deuce Harmon.

Still, A&M is in pretty good shape compared to Mississippi State, which has scored just 23 points in three games after quarterback Will Rogers sustained a shoulder injury four weeks ago.

Rogers status remains uncertain. If he doesn’t play, the Bulldogs either turn to Mike Wright, who has struggled in place of Rogers, or freshman Chris Parson, who made his collegiate debut in a 24-3 loss to Kentucky last week.

Fisher, though, maintains the Bulldogs are dangerous offensively because of running back Jo’Quavious “Woody” Marks.

“The back, Marks, I think, is as good a back as there is in the league,” Fisher said. “He’s going to be a big-time pro guy, in my opinion.”

Marks is indeed good. He’s the only active FBS player with 1,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 career receiving yards.

He’s also hurt. He suffered a leg injury in a 7-3 victory over Arkansas on Oct. 21 and has sat out the past two games.

Even with Rogers and Marks, the Bulldogs have struggled under first-year coach Zach Arnett. Under Arnett, the Mississippi State offense has gone from “Air Raid” to Airhead.

Arnette shelved the Air Raid offense of his predecessor, the late Mike Leach, even though Rogers had excelled in that system.

Rogers, a senior, led the SEC in passing in 2021 and 2022. This season, he passed for just 1,275 yards and 10 touchdowns before his injury. More than one-third of that production came in a 37-30 loss to South Carolina in which he passed for 487 yards.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Rogers passed for 329 yards and three touchdowns vs. Texas A&M last year.

The Bulldogs have averaged 256 yards of total offense in the three games since Rogers’ injury.

If Rogers doesn’t play — and even if he does — the Bulldogs figure to struggle against the A&M defense, which is ranked second in the SEC.

Mississippi State’s defense can cause problems, too. The Bulldogs, who like to blitz, have posted 21 sacks. Linebacker Nathaniel Watson leads the SEC with seven.

“Defensively, they’re a pain in the tail,” Fisher said. “Up front with constant twists, stunts, blitzes, multiple blitzes, constant movement up front.”

That could be an issue for a possible inexperienced A&M quarterback behind an inconsistent offensive line.

Yet, despite their injuries, issues and inconsistencies, Fisher remains optimistic. After all, three of the Aggies’ four losses were by a touchdown or less against ranked opponents — No. 8 Alabama, No. 9 Ole Miss and No. 13 Tennessee.

“I still love our leadership,” Fisher said. “They didn’t fall away (vs. Ole Miss). They kept competing, playing every play. We’ve got to learn to help them make another play.

“But I still like the dynamic and personality of this team and its ability to compete.”

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Wounded Aggies and injury-plagued Bulldogs meet on Saturday night

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