COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A disillusioning first season of Southeastern Conference play concluded for Missouri with a 59-29 blowout loss at Texas A&M on Saturday, and the outcome will give the Tigers more time to contemplate what went wrong and how to fix it.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
The extra time is the month or so Mizzou wont have to prepare for a bowl game. Missouri finished 5-7, falling one victory short of the bowl game qualifying minimum. No bowl prep for these Tigers for the first time since 2004, just regrouping.
But as the buses warmed up outside the locker room, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was adamant when he said this wasnt the moment to break down the season that fell far short of expectations.
This isnt the time, Pinkel said. I focus on our program all the time. I focus on the process, and Im going to wake up Monday, and do the same thing whether we go to a bowl or not go to a bowl. Its not going to change. I focus on the details of everything in this program, all the time, in the tough seasons and the good, great seasons.
And it wont change because what we do works. We just have to do it better. Ive said it year after year, and Im not about to change anything now.
Later, Pinkel insisted, I believe in what Im doing.
Pinkel had vowed earlier this season to avoid the injury topic, and he largely stuck to it. Injuries, especially to starting quarterback James Franklin and the offensive line, have been devastating to the Tigers this season.
Franklin missed another game, this time because of concussion symptoms after absorbing a blow in last weeks Syracuse loss, and the offensive line has been a revolving door all season.
All Missouri had to do is look across the line of scrimmage to see results of a team that kept its dual-threat quarterback and talented offensive line healthy all season. The Aggies, who have climbed to ninth in the Bowl Championship Series standings, improved to 10-2 and are beginning to get quarterback Johnny Manziel fitted for tuxedos for all the awards banquets hes about to attend, took the Southeastern Conference by storm after many disappointing Big 12 years.
The Tigers, who enjoyed more recent success in the Big 12, mustered only two conference victories, the fewest for the team since 2002, Pinkels second season.
Its kind of surreal, its kind of hard to think about, offensive lineman Elvis Fisher said. The season didnt go quite the way we envisioned.
Texas A&M dominated from the first possession, and Manziel improved his Heisman Trophy chances with another wildly productive game.
Manziel passed for 372 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for two scores and 67 yards. Coach Kevin Sumlin sent him out for one play with about 8 minutes remaining. Manziel handed off, then came out of the game to a big ovation.
Johnny Football, had broken the SEC record for total yards in a season, a standard set by Auburn quarterback Cam Newton two years ago.
Both were in their first year at their programs. The difference is Newtons success was expected. Nobody knew who Manziel was as he won a quarterback battle entering this, his redshirt freshman season.
It takes you back to the Big 12 days, said MU cornerback E.J. Gaines, referring to the mobile, productive quarterbacks he regularly faced.
But perhaps none was quite like Manziel, who buys so much time with his scrambling, allowing receivers to free themselves or opening running lanes for himself. Pinkel offered a comparison that might be the most flattering yet John Elway from his Stanford days.
The Aggies survived a scare late in the first quarter when Manziel appeared to twist his knee on Gaines open-field tackle late in the first half. But as if to prove A&M had plenty of other weapons, running back Christine Michael rumbled 38 yards for a touchdown on the next snap for a 21-0 lead.
Texas A&Ms defense also set an early tone. Missouri mustered just 30 total yards and two first downs in the first quarter with Corbin Berkstresser making his fourth start of the season.
The mystery of Franklins availability was answered when he emerged with the team for pregame warmups without a helmet or pads, although Pinkel said the issue was all but decided on Wednesday.
Franklin suffered concussion symptoms late in the third quarter of last weeks home loss to Syracuse and his health was in doubt throughout the week.
With him, Missouri faced a monumental task taking on an Aggies team that has won four straight, including a triumph at top-ranked Alabama two weeks ago.
Without Franklin, Mizzous task became that much more challenging.
Berkstresser, couldnt muster much offense until the end of the half.
The Tigers finally got on the board on Kendial Lawrences 4-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left in the half.
Berkstresser threw touchdown passes to LDamian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham in the second half.
But it was nowhere near enough Saturday, and there were too many similar games in the Tigers first SEC season.