Ranked rivals in the SEC close out the regular season against each other on Saturday night, as No. 19 Texas A&M pays a visit to No. 5 Missouri.
Missouri has already earned a share of the SEC Eastern Division title, but can claim the crown outright and punch its ticket to next week’s conference championship game in Atlanta with a win over the Aggies. The Tigers currently sit at 10-1 on the year and 6-1 in conference, and they are coming off a 24-10 triumph at Ole Miss, that earned head coach Gary Pinkel his 100th victory at the school. Pinkel will tie Don Faurot for the all-time program lead with one more win, and another victory will also mark only the third 11-win campaign in school history. It will also keep Mizzou’s chances of reaching its first-ever BCS bowl game alive.
Texas A&M had lofty expectations coming into the campaign, and the team shot of the gate with a pair of lopsided wins. Then came a showdown with two-time defending national champion Alabama, a game that would wind up being one of the wildest of the season, but went to the Crimson Tide 49-42. The Aggies would rally to win three straight, but then came another shootout loss, this time in a 45-41 final against Auburn. Three more wins followed, then yet another setback as A&M fell last week at LSU, 34-10.
These former Big 12, and now SEC rivals have met a total of 13 times previously, with Texas A&M leading the series, 8-5. The Aggies won last year’s tussle, 59-29.
The Aggies were stymied by a fierce LSU defense last weekend, as Johnny Manziel struggled in completing a mere 16-of-41 passes for 224 yards with a TD and two interceptions, while also logging 54 yards on 12 carries. In all, the Texas A&M offense generated just 75 net rushing yards. Derel Walker did his best to keep the team moving, pulling down six of Manziel’s tosses for 130 yards and a score. The Aggies held possession of the ball for only 19:41, and they failed to come away with points on two trips to the red zone.
LSU used a bruising rushing attack to keep the A&M defense back on its heels, amassing 324 yards and scoring a pair of TDs. The Tigers churned out nearly six yards per carry, which helped them maintain control of the football for more than 40 minutes. Deshazor Everett paced the defensive unit with 12 tackles, while Darian Claiborne finished with 10 stops. The Aggies did not produce either a turnover or a sack in the contest.
Last week’s effort not withstanding, the A&M offense has been highly effective this season in rolling up 552.6 ypg, resulting in 45.6 ppg. Manziel has continued the pace that helped him win the Heisman Trophy last season as a freshman, completing just shy of 70 percent of his passes for 3,537 yards, 32 TDs and 13 interceptions. Mike Evans has also enjoyed a tremendous success as the Aggies’ primary big-play threat, turning 61 receptions into 1,314 yards and 12 TDs. Manziel leads the ground attack with 665 yards, and his eight scores are just one off the pace set by Ben Malena (487 yards, nine TDs).
Shoddy defense has been the Aggies’ downfall for the most part this season, as the team is allowing more than 31 ppg, with foes going wild for 221 ypg on the ground, and another 239.1 ypg through the air. Howard Matthews has a team-high 81 tackles, and he also leads the club with three interceptions. No one has more than three sacks, the team credited with only 17 on the year.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin spoke recently about his team’s mood following last week’s loss and in anticipation of the challenge that lies ahead.
“I think the guys are just ready to play. We are playing in a real season and real opponents and real games. Are we where we want to be right now? No. It doesn’t mean the sky is falling either.”
Missouri has enjoyed tremendous success on both sides of the ball this season, averaging 39.7 ppg while permitting only 19.3 ppg. The offense, which has been led for most of the year by veteran QB James Franklin, averages just shy of 500 ypg (491.9), demonstrating tremendous balance in tallying 238 ypg and 29 TDs via the run, and 253.9 ypg and 25 scores by way of the pass. Franklin, who recently returned the field after missing four games with a shoulder injury, is a 67.3 percent passer, who has thrown for 1,719 yards, 14 TDs and just four interceptions, while his backup, Maty Mauk, has been less efficient (.512), but has exceeded 1,000 yards and has 10 TDs against only two picks.
The Mizzou defense has stood tall against the run this season, allowing just 113.2 ypg and a total of only nine rushing TDs, while the effort against the pass has foes generating 272.8 ypg with 14 scores. Andrew Wilson is the team’s leading tackler with 79, but he isn’t alone in getting things done on that side of the ball, as Michael Sam has been a thorn in the side of opposing offenses as he has 10 sacks and 17 TFL. Overall, the Tigers have logged 35 sacks and come away with 26 turnovers, 18 of which have been interceptions. E.J. Gaines has four picks.
Franklin made his first appearance in six weeks in last week’s win over Ole Miss, completing 12-of-19 passes for 142 yards. He didn’t throw a TD pass and was intercepted once, but you just know Pinkel and the Tigers were happy to have back on the field. Henry Josey was the star of the Missouri offense in the game, rushing for 95 yards and two TDs, and Marcus Murphy added 67 yards and a score of his own. Bud Sasser made the most of his two catches, taking them for 72 yards, while Marcus Lucas turned his three grabs into 59 yards.
The Tigers outgained the Rebels, 485-378, last week, doing a solid job in yielding only 126 yards and single TD on the ground. Ole Miss reached the red zone three times, but only came with a single field goal. Gaines led the MU defense with seven stops, six of which were solo efforts, while the unit as a whole was credited with eight TFL, but only one sack and a single turnover.
Pinkel knows his defense is going to have to be on top of its game as it attempts to curtail Manziel and not let the Aggies’ standout signal caller beat them by himself.
“He’s such a great player. If you watch him game in and game out, then you see the consistency on how he plays and the way he does it. You have to contain him the best you can.”