Many an eyebrow was raised when one-loss Texas A&M was slotted ahead of unbeaten Washington in the first playoff rankings for the 2016 season. Those eyebrows can now officially be lowered — to half-staff in College Station, as it turns out.
With star players on each side of the ball on the sidelines, A&M was unable to overcome its halftime deficit in the final two quarters as Mississippi State bullied its way to a 35-28 win in Starkville. The Bulldogs held a 21-7 lead late in the second quarter, only to see Christian Kirk return a punt 93 yards for the score to cut the deficit to 14 just before the half; Kirk was responsible for slicing further into the lead, scoring on a 54-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to pull the Aggies to within seven at 28-21.
On the ensuing possession, however, the Bulldogs drove 73 yards in a drive that was culminated by Nick Fitzgerald‘s four-yard touchdown run with just over three minutes remaining in the game. The punishing drive lasted 14 plays and burned nearly eight minutes off the fourth-quarter clock, and featured a trio of key third-down conversions.
With 1:33 left to play, though, a four-yard Jake Hubenak touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds on fourth down pulled the Aggies to within seven at 35-28. However, the Aggies failed to recover an onside kick and the Bulldogs were able to run out most of the remainder of the clock. They still had one more (very faint) chance, but that chance was intercepted to seal the upset.
Fitzgerald accounted for nearly 400 yards of offense — 209 passing, 180 rushing. The sophomore also scored four of the Bulldogs’ five touchdowns, two each in the air and on the ground.
A&M, ranked No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, played the entire second half without starting quarterback Trevor Knight (shoulder), and the vast majority of the last two quarters without star defensive end Garrett Myles. MSU improved to 4-5 overall and 2-3 in SEC play.