SPRING VALLEY, Nevada — Nursing a 17-10 with less than six minutes left against South Carolina, Missouri tried to run out the clock with a punishing ground drive.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
As you know, it didn’t work and the Gamecocks eventually spoiled the fifth-ranked Tigers’ perfect season in double overtime.
There were no such issues last Saturday in Oxford, Miss., where Missouri bled the final 8:08 from the clock in a 24-10 victory with a relentless and punishing ground assault.
It was the kind of drive — a 15-play, 61-yard march — coaches dream about.
“That eight-minute drive we had at the end of the game the other day, that’s about our offensive line and our running backs and making the plays necessary, doing the things necessary to finish a game,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. “Our whole football team’s a lot better than 10 weeks ago.”
Clearly, Missouri, 10-1 and 6-1 in the SEC, also is better than one month ago.
“You’re not going to do it all the time,” Pinkel said. “It’s not perfect. You always want to do it, and we’ve done it a lot this year.”
Never has Missouri been quite so impressive, though.
The drive actually started with a false start penalty on senior left guard Max Copeland, but the Tigers persevered.
Junior Henry Josey, who had two carries for 7 yards on the drive, picked up 5 yards on first down.
Junior Marcus Murphy then picked up a new first down with an 11-yard run. Murphy carried the load on the drive with seven carries for 40 yards.
Senior quarterback James Franklin converted a key third-and-8 with a 13-yard run and finished with 18 yards on two carries on the drive, which ended with two kneel downs.
Sophomore running back Russell Hansbrough added two carries for 4 yards, but the drive was really about the offensive line asserted its will against the Rebels’ defensive front.
“For what was at stake and everything, it was a great team win, but at that moment it felt like the O line and the running backs and the tight ends — it felt like we won the gamer for us,” senior left tackle Justin Britt said.
Of course, Missouri would love for history to repeat itself Saturday when Texas A&M arrives for a 6:45 p.m. kickoff on ESPN at Memorial Stadium.
For a little insight on the visiting team, we asked Texas A&M beat writer Kate Hairopoulos to answer a few questions, which she obliged. Read her work here ahead of the big game and follow her on Twitter:
Is Johnny Manziel better this season than he was last year when he became the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy? If so, in what ways?
The consensus is yes. He understands the offense better, allowing him to make pre-snap decisions instead of having to ad-lib as much after the snap. He’s also more willing to scramble while still looking for the throw, instead of tucking and running. Manziel has 32 passing touchdowns, compared to 26 a year ago. He does have 13 interceptions and his rushing totals are down, though he’s still a threat with his feet. He leads A&M with 665 yards and has eight rushing touchdowns.
What went wrong offensively at LSU, and can a Missouri defense that leads the SEC in sacks and interceptions duplicate that success?
LSU has A&M’s and Manziel’s number. The Tigers have shut down Johnny Football both times that they’ve played. Here’s the thing — many teams have tried to simulate the same strategy, but it’s easier said than done. LSU pressured Manziel, not necessarily blitzing him but making him feel uncomfortable. They were able to cover and physically challenge A&M’s receivers. When Manziel did run, he couldn’t get to the edge and had to run through the teeth of the defense. He threw two more picks and he and his receivers were off all day. That said, it’s hard to picture Manziel and the SEC’s top offense struggling that much for a second straight game.
Is there a feeling that Texas A&M wants to play spoiler with respect to Missouri’s SEC championship game ambitions?
Sure, though that feeling that the Aggies could actually do it may have been stronger if they hadn’t been beaten so badly, 34-10, at LSU. Still, A&M has been great on the road, winning 10 of the last 11 away from home. And playing spoiler to Missouri in the meeting of former Big 12 opponents adds a carrot. A&M is also re-shuffling its goals, playing for a double-digit win season for the second straight year and a better bowl.
Defensively, the Aggies have allowed the most passing touchdowns (26) among conference teams and the scoring defense (31.2 points per game) only ranks ahead of Kentucky. Are the numbers a mirage or is the defense, which also allows an SEC-worst 221 rushing yards per game, that bad?
That bad. It is what it is at this point. The Aggies are young and inexperienced and no amount of scheming or shuffling personnel has been able to fix it. The Aggies usually can’t muster a pass rush. They didn’t sack or even get a quarterback pressure on LSU’s Zach Mettenberger last week.
What matchup do you think will be the most interesting to watch during the game? (Personally, I want to see how Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines matches up with Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.)
I like that one, too. Evans was shut down at LSU, so it will be interesting to see how he responds. But I’m most intrigued to see Mizzou’s defensive ends Michael Sam, Shane Ray and Kony Ealy go against A&M’s tackles in Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi. Matthews is a finalist for the Outland Trophy — he can prove he deserves the honor this weekend.