University of Missouri

MU has to hold down A&M’s Johnny Manziel

Updated: 2013-11-27T21:52:50Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

— Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has a lot of admirers in Missouri’s locker room, starting with the man designing a game plan aimed at keeping the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in check.

“What he’s asked to do for that football team — what he does with his feet and his arm and his brain — is unbelievable to me,” Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said. “The guy is just an unbelievable talent.”

When the Aggies played host to Alabama during Missouri’s September bye week, sophomore safety Ian Simon spent the entire game on the phone with his dad, Kim, talking about how best to handle Manziel and sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans.

“He loves watching Manziel play,” Simon said. “My dad’s a little excited for the game. He’s all geeked up for it, so he’s got me pretty excited for it.”

Senior cornerback E.J. Gaines remembers Manziel carving up Missouri last season, completing 32 of 44 passes for 372 yards with three touchdowns and rushing for two more scores.

“He deserves the hype,” said Gaines, a Fort Osage graduate. “He’s a great player and we definitely respect him over here.”

Manziel was a one-man wrecking crew last season in helping the Aggies thump Missouri 59-29, and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel believes Manziel has improved since.

“He’s a better player than he was a year ago, and he was a great one,” Pinkel said. “He won the Heisman Trophy. That tells the story. … His pocket presence is excellent and he reads defenses even better, which is normal on a player that has a season of maturity.”

Manziel and No. 21 Texas A&M, 8-3, who visit No. 5 Missouri for a 6:45 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Memorial Stadium, are all that stand between the Tigers and a berth in the SEC championship game.

Missouri clinched at least a share of the SEC East division title with its win at Mississippi, but the Tigers need another win to avoid a tie breaker with South Carolina for the title-game berth.

That means stopping Manziel, who became the first freshman in college history to win the Heisman.

“I don’t think the right word is stop,” Steckel said, “because you’re not going to stop Johnny Manziel.”

OK, what then?

“To beat Manziel, you have to bring your ‘A’ game,” senior linebacker Donovan Bonner said. “You can’t do ‘B’ game. You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game, so we have to have our best game this year. There’s no other way to put it.”

That means discipline on the edges and in gaps, trying to keep Manziel within the confines of the pocket. He’s at his most lethal when he scrambles.

“What we’ve got to try to do is contain him,” senior cornerback Randy Ponder said. “At the end of the day, that’s the best you can do, because he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.”

That doesn’t mean Manziel won’t make plays from the pocket, but he’s more predictable and easier to defend when bottled up between the tackles.

“He’s just hard to tackle, and the problem is, if you lose leverage and get into chase mode with him, you’re chasing,” Pinkel said. “Not too many people can get to him before he gets rid of the football or makes a play or scores or what have you.”

LSU provided a blueprint for slowing Manziel and the vaunted Texas A&M offense, which had scored at least 41 points and racked up at least 486 yards of total offense in every game this season before getting drubbed 34-10 and totaling only 299 yards from scrimmage Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.

“LSU obviously did a good job, and everybody’s going to say, ‘Well, do exactly what LSU did,’” Pinkel said.

Of course, it’s not that simple, but Missouri can learn from the success LSU’s defense had against Manziel.

Still, there won’t be wholesale changes in personnel or scheme. The Tigers’ defense plans to play like it has throughout the season.

“We’ve got to get constant pressure and be relentless,” defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. “We’ve got to keep going after him. He can only run so long. We play high energy, and that’s not going to stop this game.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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