Will the Tigers win the SEC East?
Missouri and Texas A&M are old Big 12 rivals, but these two teams are set to meet in a critical SEC contest on Saturday night.
Texas A&M’s loss to LSU was a huge setback to the Aggies’ BCS bowl hopes, but a win over Missouri would put Kevin Sumlin’s team back in contention for one of college football’s premier postseason destinations.
Missouri has been one of the most-improved teams in the nation this year. Coach Gary Pinkel was on the hot seat after a 5-7 mark last season, but the Tigers have rebounded with a 10-1 record and are one win away from playing for the SEC Championship.
These two teams have met 13 times, with one appearance as SEC opponents. Texas A&M holds an 8-5 series edge over the Tigers. Missouri’s last victory against the Aggies occurred in 2011. The last three meetings in this series were in College Station, and the Tigers won the last matchup in Columbia (2007).
Texas A&M at Missouri
Kickoff: 7:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Missouri -4.5
Missouri’s Key to Victory: Contain Johnny Manziel
Despite LSU’s success last week, stopping Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is no easy task. The Tigers held Manziel to 224 passing yards and limited the sophomore to just 54 yards on the ground. Manziel has made significant progress as a passer this season, as the sophomore is completing 69.1 percent of his throws and has tossed 32 touchdowns (up from 26 last year). Manziel torched Missouri’s defense for 372 passing yards and three scores last season, while recording 67 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Can the Tigers replicate LSU’s gameplan and contain Manziel? Missouri has the defensive line to match what LSU has been able to do over the last two years, but the secondary isn’t quite on the same level. And after a subpar performance last week, Manziel and Texas A&M will be motivated to rebound. Missouri’s secondary has allowed only eight passing scores in SEC play this year, but Georgia’s Aaron Murray and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw produced solid outings against this defense. Keeping Manziel in the pocket and limiting the big plays – especially to receiver Mike Evans – will be one of the keys for coordinator Dave Steckel.
Texas A&M’s Key to Victory: Stop Missouri’s rushing attack
Stopping the run has been a season-long issue for Texas A&M. The Aggies allowed 324 rushing yards in last week’s loss to LSU, and two other opponents topped the 300-yard mark against this defense in 2013. The season totals don’t paint a better picture for coach Kevin Sumlin, as Texas A&M is last in the SEC against the run, allowing an average of 5.3 yards per carry. The Aggies have some youth and inexperience in the front seven, so this unit is in transition in 2013. However, until Texas A&M can get stops, opposing teams will continue to exploit the front seven. Missouri averages 238 rushing yards per game, with three players recording over 500 yards this year. Henry Josey leads the team with 855 yards, but Russell Hansbrough (6.3 ypc) and Marcus Murphy (7.0 ypc) will contribute. Even though Texas A&M’s offense is among the best in the nation, winning on Saturday night will be a challenge if the defense fails to slow down Missouri’s ground attack. If the Tigers hit their season average on the ground, Missouri will be headed to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship next week.
Key Player: Missouri CB E.J. Gaines
Gaines and fellow cornerback Randy Ponder likely won’t matchup against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans for the full game, but the Aggies have plenty of other weapons that allow Manziel to spread the ball around. Gaines is an underrated defender in the SEC, as the senior had 34 starts under his belt and has seven career interceptions. Even if Missouri’s defensive line succeeds in keeping Manziel in the pocket, the sophomore is capable of picking apart the Tigers’ secondary. Gaines and the rest of the defensive backfield may give up a few big plays, but this group has to limit the damage – and force a turnover or two.
What a difference a year makes. Coming into 2013, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was on the hot seat, and there were plenty of doubters about whether or not this program was ready to compete for a SEC title. A year later, the Tigers are just one win away from a trip to Atlanta. Texas A&M won 59-29 over Missouri last season, but this is a much-improved team. The Tigers use their ground attack to control the clock, while the defense makes just enough timely plays to clinch the SEC East title.
Prediction: Missouri 34, Texas A&M 31