The Xtra Point: Tigers Face Toughest Test Of The Year
This is it. This is the game fans have been fearing all year. Johnny Manziel, one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and the Texas A&M Aggies will come to Columbia to take on the Missouri Tigers. But now, this game has bigger implications. This game is the one thing standing in Missouri's way from reaching the SEC Championship game.
This could actually be Missouri's biggest challenge all year and it's because Missouri has never faced a quarterback with the same caliber as Manziel. The last quarterback Missouri faced that was even close to Manziel's talent level is Connor Shaw from South Carolina and he burned Missouri's defense en route to a double overtime win over the Tigers. Especially with Missouri's poor pass defense, you can expect Manziel to burn the Tigers in the passing game. The first step for the Tigers to limit Manziel's passing game is to lock down on wide receiver 6' 5" wide receiver Mike Evans, one of the best wide receivers in college football and Manziel's favorite target. He needs to constantly be double covered. After locking out Evans, the Tigers need to constantly force three-and-outs. Forcing turnovers can only do so much. Sure he may lose a possesion here or there, but when Manziel gets the ball, he usually capitalizes. So forget going for the interception and getting burned, play it safe.
The one thing going for the Tigers is that the Aggies can't run the ball. The team's leading rusher is Manziel. Because of that, expect to see a three man rush and a quarterback spy and have the rest of Missouri's defense in coverage whether it's man defense or zone. When they do plan to run the ball, the rusher will meet the bear hugs of Missouri's highly touted defensive line.
While Manziel and the Aggies offense is solid, Missouri's isn't too bad itself. James Franklin is still shaking off the rust, but against this very weak Aggies pass defense, he should be able to capitalize as well. But Franklin and the passing game isn't the key to the game. The key for Missouri is the running attack. Texas A&M's rush defense is even worse than their rush defense and right now, Missouri's backs are on a roll. Running back Henry Josey is having a great comeback campaign, most recently burning the Ole Miss Rebels for 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are having solid seasons as well. The reason these three need to be the focus of the offense is for ball control. The more time that's shaved from the clock, the less time Manziel has to score. Missouri needs to run a conservative west-coast style offense. Go for the first down, not the home run play. Keep the ball out of A&M's hand.
The Aggies may be ranked 24th in the nation, but they are a lot better than their rank. This will be a high octane shootout between these SEC newbies, but Missouri will choke when it matters: the fourth quarter. The game will be close and whether it's a defensive collapse or a missed field goal by Andrew Baggett, the Tigers will find a chance to throw the game away. It would be nice if Missouri wins this game, but temper your expectations.