Needing a single win to become eligible for a bowl game, the Missouri Tigers get one last crack at it as they pay a visit to former Big 12 Conference mate, and now SEC rival, Texas A&M.
Missouri’s first season as a member of arguably the nation’s toughest league hasn’t gone according to plan, as it is 5-6 overall and just 2-3 in SEC action. The Tigers stepped out of conference last weekend to entertain Big East foe Syracuse, and they dropped a 31-27 decision to the Orange for their second loss in the last three games. If unable to beat the Aggies, Missouri’s streak of consecutive seasons of bowl eligibility will end at eight.
Unlike Mizzou, Texas A&M has performed quite well in its first foray into the SEC, going 9-2 overall and 5-2 in conference. With wunderkind QB Johnny Manziel at the controls, the Aggies have won their last four games, the most recent of which being a 47-28 triumph over FCS foe Sam Houston State last Saturday. The team’s signature win of course was a 29-24 upset of previously No. 1 and defending national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 10.
Texas A&M owns a 7-5 lead in the all-time series with Missouri, but the Tigers have won the last three and five of the last six meetings overall. Mizzou has been victorious its last two trips to College Station.
Missouri’s scoring average of 25.5 ppg is nearly identical to what it allows to the opposition, and the team is producing 346.5 ypg while foes check in at 367.4 ypg.
The offense runs most efficiently when James Franklin lines up under center, as he has completed just shy of 60 percent of his passes for 1,562 yards, 10 TDs and seven interceptions. Marcus Lucas (42 rec., 464 yards, three TDs) is the team’s most productive pass catcher, while Kendial Lawrence (184 carries, 938 yards, 11 TDs) serves as it best option running the football.
On defense, the Tigers’ strength has been in the first (43 points) and third quarters (36 points) this season, as the second yields more then twice those figures, and almost three times in the final frame, as the team has collapsed more times than coach Gary Pinkel would care to think about.
Case in point, last week’s bout with Syracuse saw the Orange score 21 points in the fourth quarter to earn the four-point victory. The Tigers lost the game despite getting 279 yards and two TD passes from Franklin, who was sacked four times, and 119 yards and a score from Lawrence. Damien Washington and T.J. Moe combined for 10 catches and 146 yards.
Pinkel knows his team can ill-afford the kind of mental lapses it has experienced in the past this week against the Aggies, particularly with a quarterback that can do so many different things to hurt you.
“He’s [Manziel] a very, very impressive player. He’s athletic, he throws the ball well and he’s accurate. He can throw off balance, he’s creative. When you watch film you wonder how he pulls stuff off but he does. He plays with a lot of confidence.”
Mizzou’s leading tackler is LB Will Ebner (73 stops, 10.5 TFL), but a glaring lack of big plays, particularly in the secondary, has really hurt the unit as it has come up with only six interceptions.
Zaviar Gooden more than doubled his closest teammate in tackles last week, logging 15 stops, 10 of which were unassisted. Ebner finished with just three tackles.
Manziel has been nothing short of spectacular for the Aggies this season, completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 3,047 yards, 21 TDs and only seven interceptions, while also rushing for 1,114 yards and 17 TDs. To put his value in perspective, the team’s next two leading rushers, Ben Malena and Christine Michael have combined for fewer yards (1,063) and TDs (16). Mike Evans (67 rec., 923 yards, four TDs) and Ryan Swope (57 rec., 758 yards, six TDs) have both benefited from the young signal-caller’s exploits this year.
With regard to the Texas A&M defense, it has performed well in permitting 21.9 ppg, with its effort against the run (136.5 ypg) being the better of the two disciplines. Keeping foes to minimal points to start games has been paramount to the team’s success, as the Aggies have surrendered a total of 34 first- quarter points. Damontre Moore is the unquestioned leader of the unit, and his 78 total tackles, 20 TFL and 12.5 sacks are indicative of his dominance.
Last week against Sam Houston State, Manziel threw for 267 yards and three TDs, two of which went to Evans, while Nwachukwu Uzoma turned four grabs into 160 yards and a score, and LeKendrick Williams two receptions into 86 yards and a TD. Manziel also finished with an even 100 yards on 16 totes, while finding the end zone twice.
Jonathan Mathis led all A&M defenders with eight tackles, and the Aggies gave up 382 total yards to the Bearkats. TAMU turned the ball over four times, three on fumbles.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin knows his team is in for a battle.
“We’re playing a team that no one on this football team has ever beaten. It’s senior day. That’ll be enough to get our attention right there,” he continued, “They’re playing to be bowl eligible. Both sides have a lot to play for. Last time I checked, they haven’t lost here in a while. I don’t think they’ll be lacking any confidence at all walking into this place.”