By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
ORLANDO, Fla. – While Alabama and Auburn battle for the Western Division on The Plains, No. 5 Missouri has a chance to clinch the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division on Saturday night against No. 21 Texas A&M in Columbia.
It would be a monumental feat for the Tigers (10-1, 6-1 SEC) to claim a division title in only their second year as a member of the SEC, and to so Mizzou will need to suppress a potent Texas A&M offense led by quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Coach Gary Pinkel and Missouri would have preferred for second place South Carolina to have suffered a defeat down the stretch of its conference slate to provide a bit of cushion. Instead, it will be all about the Tigers on Saturday in a win or go home showdown. A win, and Mizzou is headed to Atlanta on Dec. 7. A loss, and the Gamecocks will happily take their spot.
"I wished we got help, and it was over about four weeks ago,” Pinkel said this week. “We talked about it in the beginning on how it's about us. It's all about us. That has kind of been the theme we've had this whole year. We got into November and we are 10-1 with one game left and our players get what it takes and it's still about playing well."
Manziel and the Aggies are coming off their worst offensive showing of the season last week against LSU in Baton Rouge. A&M’s 299 total yards was well below its season average of 552.6 yards per game, and the Aggies’ 10-point output was 31 points shy of their next-lowest score of the season.
The Aggies will be looking to bounce back against Missouri, whose defense has been stout against the run but susceptible through the air, where it ranks last in the conference.
Despite the fact that LSU has played TAMU better than anyone over the last two seasons, Pinkel says that it will be to Missouri to formulate its own game plan against the Aggies’ attack.
“You’ve got to look at your own personnel,” Pinkel said. “You’ve got to look at the scheme of the shoe you are on. You can't all of the sudden run a different defense or coverage you have never played before. I think LSU has their number right now. Nobody else has.”
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin believes that Missouri has done a stellar job of fitting its defensive scheme to its personnel.
“They’ve really improved from last year, obviously, and statistically lead the league in sacks,” Sumlin said at his weekly presser. “They lead the league in interceptions too, which is an underrated stat. It’s a big statistic to say that your team leads the league in sacks and interceptions. Missouri is using all their pieces very well right now.”
While the Aggies – who have dropped three games this season after starting it off with national championship aspirations – have not seen their pan out as they’d hoped it would, Sumlin believes his players are excited about the opportunity to claim their ninth win of the year.
“I think the guys are just ready to play,” Sumlin added. “We are going on the road again this week as the underdog and the good news is that people expect us to win. That’s a completely different attitude than when I first got here.”
While A&M boasts the conference’s top offense, the Tigers aren’t too shabby offensively either.
Behind quarterbacks James Franklin and Matty Mauk, Mizzou has rallied off nearly 40 points per game and is second in the league in rushing with 238 yards per game. Texas A&M will have to deal with a slew of big wide-outs in addition to a dangerous back in Henry Josey, who has found the end zone 12 times in ’13.
Game time is set for 7:45 p.m. Eastern time, and you can watch it live on ESPN.
This weekend’s clash between Missouri and Texas A&M will be the 14th meeting between the two teams…Texas A&M leads the all-time series 8-5…Only one of the previous 13 meetings between the two schools has come since they joined the SEC in 2012…The Aggies have not visited Faurot Field since 2007…Nine of their previous meetings came when A&M and Mizzou were members of the Big 12 Conference.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2012 – Texas A&M 59, Mizzou 39 (College Station, Texas)
2011 – Mizzou 38, Texas A&M 31 (College Station, Texas)
2010 – Mizzou 30, Texas A&M 9 (College Station, Texas)
2007 – Mizzou 40, Texas A&M 26 (Columbia, Mo.)
2006 – Teas A&M 25, Mizzou 19 (College Station, Texas)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
Like he did against just about everyone, Johnny Manziel put up big numbers against Missouri in 2012 and Texas A&M ran away with a 59-39 victory over Missouri in College Station. Manziel racked up 439 yards of total offense and five total touchdowns on the day to power the Aggies. Mike Evans hauled in eight passes for 99 yards and a score in the win, and A&M amassed 647 yards of offense as a squad while its defense limited Mizzou to 465 yards while forcing a pair of turnovers.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
Texas A&M – Mike Evans, Redshirt Sophomore, Receiver
Johnny Manziel is the engine that drives the Texas A&M offense, but Evans has also been of vital importance to the Aggies’ attack. The 6-foot-5 wide-out leads the SEC in receiving and ranks third nationally with 119.5 yards per game. He’s proven to be Manziel’s go-to guy on the outside this season, amassing 1,314 receiving yards and a league-best 12 receiving touchdowns on 61 receptions (21.5 yards per catch). Although Missouri excels in run defense, the Tigers have been vulnerable against the pass and will have their hands full with Evans. Mizzou currently ranks last in the SEC in pass defense, meaning that Evans and Manziel could be in for a big evening on Saturday. After being held to its worst offensive showing of the season in Baton Rouge last week, Texas A&M will be looking to bounce back in a big way against the Tigers in Columbia.
Mizzou – Henry Josey, Redshirt Junior, Running Back
Josey, who has run for 855 yards and 12 scores on 6.1 yards per carry, will look to attack Texas A&M’s run defense this weekend. The redshirt junior back is a big reason why Missouri is currently second in the SEC in rushing behind Auburn, and he will be running against a defense that ranks last in the league against the run. The Tigers run the ball over 40 times a game, so expect a steady dose of Josey throughout the night as Missouri tries to clinch the SEC Eastern Division crown.
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
Texas A&M – Defensive Front Seven
As mentioned previously, the Aggies have struggled mightily against the run this season, allowing a league-high 221 yards per game on the ground. The defensive line and linebacking corps will need to be solid this weekend for Texas A&M to contain Missouri’s prolific rushing attack, which averages 42 rushing attempts for nearly 240 yards per game. The Tigers have proven to be capable in the passing game, but their preferred method of attack has been running the ball on their way to nearly 40 points per game. The Aggies’ offense leads the league in scoring, so the defense should have some support in that area, but if it is not able to slow down Missouri on the ground then it could be a long night. That initiative starts up front.
Mizzou – Michael Sam, Redshirt Senior, Defensive End
Sam leads a Missouri defense that has been among the SEC’s best against the run, and he’s been an absolute terror for opposing offenses this season. Sam comes into this week’s game ranking first in the SEC and in the top-10 nationally in both sacks (10) and tackles for loss (17). Going against Johnny Manziel poses a different kind of challenge for a pass rusher like Sam, however, because of the quarterback’s great mobility and improvisational skills on the run. Make no doubt about it, though, Sam will be a factor once again this weekend and will try to make himself at home in the A&M backfield. The redshirt senior has worked his way into the conversation for SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and a big showing this weekend against the Ags could go a long way towards securing the honor.
• Missouri is trying for its 11th win of the year on Saturday. It would be just the third 11-win season in school history if the Tigers are able to capture a victory.
• A Texas A&M win over No. 5 Mizzou would mark the second-highest AP road win in school history, behind last season’s upset of top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
• Mizzou has beaten three ranked teams so far in 2013 and will be trying for their fourth win against a ranked foe on Saturday. The Tigers haven’t beaten four ranked opponents in the same season since 2007.
• The Aggies are a perfect 11-0 in night games during the Kevin Sumlin era (2012 to present).
• Gary Pinkel won his 100th game has Mizzou’s head coach last week, improving his career record with the Tigers to 100-62. He is within one win of matching all-time program wins lead, Don Faurot, who won 101 games from 1935-42, 46-56.
• A win would give Texas A&M nine wins for the second straight season and the 22nd time in school history.