On Saturday night (6:45 P.M., ESPN), the #5 Missouri Tigers (10-1, 6-1) play host to the #21 Texas A&M Aggies (8-3, 4-3) . Texas A&M is coming off of a 10-34 loss at LSU, while Missouri comes home following a 24-10 win at Ole Miss.
For the Tigers, this is the second round of the play-offs, with an SEC East Division title and a berth in the SEC Championship Game on the line. A strong argument can be made that this is the biggest game in the 13-year tenure of Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel. Win on Senior Night and advance to the championship game of the nation’s best football conference. Opportunities abound!
One thing is for certain. This is not only Coach Pinkel’s most-talented team at Missouri, but it’s clearly his best team.
Texas A&M comes in with red-shirt sophomore QB Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner who is expected to be a 1st-round pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. Last season in College Station, Manziel and the Aggies ripped the Tigers a new one. But that will matter little or not at all this Saturday.
As a team, Texas A&M leads the SEC in scoring (45.6 points/game), total offense (552.6 yards/game), passing (365.1 yards/game), and first downs (28.0 first downs/game).
The 6’1” 200-pound Manziel is the league leader in passing yards (321.5 passing yards/game), passing touchdowns (32), and total offense (382.0 yards total offense/game).
“He’s a great, great player,” said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, speaking of Manziel, earlier this week. “He’s a better player than he was a year ago (when he won the Heisman).”
As great as Manziel was in 2012, and he had the statistics to back it up, his 2013 statistics lend substantial support to Coach Pinkel’s claim that Manziel is even better this year. He is doing a better job of staying in the pocket, and he’s a much more efficient passer (69.1% completion rate, 174.92 passer efficiency rating) than he was last season. But, Manziel’s rushing numbers are down from a year ago. He’s not running as much. Like I said, he’s doing a better job of staying in the pocket. This year, Manziel has rushed for 665 yards and 8 TDs on 122 carries (5.5 yards/carry). He leads Texas A&M in rushing yards and rushing attempts, so he’s still very, very dangerous with his feet. But his rushing numbers are down from 2012 when he rushed for 1410 yards and 21 TDs on 201 carries (7.0 yards/carry).
This year, Manziel is sharing the rushing load. While he leads Texas A&M in rushing and rushing attempts, the Aggies are utilizing 4 TBs who have combined for more than twice as many carries, and to rush for more than twice as many yards and TDs as Manziel. That group is led by 5’9” 195-pound senior Ben Malena (101 carries, 487 yards, 9 TDs), and includes a trio of sophomore back-ups in 5’8” 195-pound Trey Williams (48 carries, 336 yards, 6 TDs), 6’0” 230-pound Tra Carson (52 carries, 269 yards, 5 TDs), and 6’0” 200-pound Brandon Williams (38 carries, 212 yards, 1 TD). All four Texas A&M backs are real threats as receivers out of the backfield. And, Malena has 19 receptions on the season, for 179 yards and 1 TD.
“They’re great runners,” said Missouri Defensive Coordinator Dave Steckel, speaking of the Texas A&M backs.
Manziel also has terrific receivers with which to work, including 6’5” 225-pound sophomore WR Mike Evans, who leads the SEC in receiving yards (119.5 yards/game) and receiving TDs (12). In addition to Evans (61 receptions for 1314 yards and 12 TDs), who is outstanding at coming up with jump balls and making catches in traffic, Manziel’s favorite targets include 6’0” 200-pound junior WR Malcome Kennedy (55 receptions for 606 yards and 7 TDs), 6’2” 185-pound senior WR Derel Walker (41 receptions for 645 yards and 3 TDs), and 5’9” 182-pound senior WR Travis Labhart (37 receptions for 469 yards and 5 TDs).
“Texas A&M has some really great receivers,” explained Coach Steckel. “They spread you out. They get great speed guys, athletic guy, in space. And then, they’ve got a quarterback who, if he can’t distribute the ball, he says, “Okay. See ya.”
Earlier this week, Coach Sumlin pointed out that both of his starting tackles will play on Sundays. The Aggies left tackle, 6’5” 305-pound senior Jake Mathews is projected by some to be the first player taken in next April’s NFL Draft. And on the right side, 6’5” 300-pound junior OT Cedric Ogbuehi is projected to be one of the top offensive tackles in this draft should he decide to come out early.
Every day, Coach Sumlin has his Aggies practice getting off to a fast start. In two seasons under Coach Sumlin, Texas A&M has scored on 18 of their 24 opening series, with 17 of those being touchdowns. Sumlin’s Aggies have outscored their opponents 291-113 in the 1st quarter.
Texas A&M punter Drew Kaser leads the SEC with a 48.0-yard average. And, the Aggies lead the conference in kick-off coverage.
So, the Aggies are scary good on offense, and they’re very good on special teams. But defensively, Texas A&M has been vulnerable. The Aggies are 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (31.2 points/game), 14th in total defense (460.1 yards/game), and 14th in rushing defense (221 yards/game). The Aggies are giving up a league-worst 5.3 yards/rushing attempt, and 6.2 yards/play, which ranks 13th in the conference. They’ve given up the most first downs, and rank last in the conference in time of possession (26:44). They’re not good in the red zone either, having surrendered TDs on 30 of their opponents’ 41 forays into the red zone this season. The one saving statistical advantage that the Aggies’ defense can argue is their 15 interceptions on the season, which trails only Missouri’s 18 in the SEC.
The better rushing teams in the SEC have had big games on the ground against Texas A&M, whose leading tackler and most productive defensive player is 6’2” 200-pound safety Howard Mathews, with 81 total tackles, 3 interceptions, 6 pass-break-ups, and a forced fumble.
He’s joined by a pair of productive linebackers in 6’0” 225-pound true freshman MLB Darian Claiborne (79 total tackles, 7 TFLs, 1,5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles) and 6’2” 220-pound senior WLB Steven Jenkins (65 total tackles, 5 TFLs, 1 sack, 3 PBUs).
Up front, the Aggies are led by 6’4” 255-pound junior DE Gavin Stansbury, with 45 total tackles including 3 sacks. He’s joined by 6’4’ 255-pound sophomore DE Julien Obioha, with 38 total tackles, including 5 TFLs, 1 sack, and 1 PBU.
In the back end, 6’0” 185-pound sophomore De’Vante Harris (46 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 8 PBUs, 1 INT), 6’0” 185-pound junior Deshazor Everrett (65 tackles, 2 TFLs, 5 PBUs, 2 INTs, 1 fumble recovery), and 5’9” 185-pound senior Tony Hurd Jr. (49 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 forced fumble) have also been productive for the Aggies.
Texas A&M is pretty young on the defensive side of the football, and Coach Sumlin has played several true freshmen on defense this season.
(NCAA Ranking in Parentheses)
MIZZOU_____CATEGORY____ Texas A&M
491.9 (16)_____Total Offense_____552.6 (4)
238.0 (18)____Rushing Offense___187.5 (45)
253.9 (41)____Passing Offense____ 365.1 (6)
150.18 (26)___Pass Efficiency____ 171.12 (5)
39.7 (13)_____Scoring Offense_____45.6 (5)
386.0 (51)_____Total Defense_____460.1 (107)
113.2 (13)____Rushing Defense___221.0 (107)
272.8 (113)_Passing Yards Allowed_239.1 (83)
119.03 (37)__Pass Efficiency Def. __132.61 (81)
19.3 (15)_____Scoring Defense____ 31.2 (T-88)
1.3 (T-6)_____Turnover Margin____0.0 (T-62)
0.480 (22)___3rd Down Conv. Pct__0.511 (13)
0.700 (T-9)__4th Down Conv. Pct__0.533 (T-52)
0.353 (30)___ 3rd Conv Pct.Def. ___0.396 (67)
0.870 T-37)___Red Zone Offense___0.797 (80)
0.806 (44)____Red Zone Defense___0.854 (89)
35.98 (88)______Net Punting_______40.83 (5)
4.37 (107)______Punt Returns______7.89 (69)
23.67 (24)_____Kickoff Returns_____21.00 (69)
270 (T-22)___First Downs Offense____308 (2)
223 (57)_____First Downs Defense___253 (T-99)
5.18 (T-49)__Fewest Penalties / Gm. __6.64 (96)
30:03 (54)____Time of Possession____26:44 (114)