The last time Missouri won a conference championship the nation was still in awe over Neil Armstrong becoming the first man to walk on the moon. Just two months after Armstrong took one giant step for man and one giant leap for mankind, Missouri opened the 1969 season with a 19-17 victory over Air Force. It was the first of nine wins for the Tigers that season, which ended with a Big 8 championship and a loss in the Orange Bowl against Penn State and Joe Paterno, in his fourth season as a head coach in State College. That is how long it has been since Missouri enjoyed a conference championship. It has been a long time to come for the school, and a victory on Saturday will present an opportunity to celebrate a conference championship generations in the making.
All that is standing in the way, for now, is Texas A&M and their 2012 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel. Get by the Aggies and then a date with Alabama or Auburn will await them in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
Missouri needs to win this game in order to make a trip to Atlanta. A loss by Missouri will send South Carolina back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since the 2010 season. South Carolina has already wrapped up their SEC schedule for the year — the Gamecocks host in-state rival Clemson, of the ACC, this weekend — and they own the tiebreaker with Missouri thanks to a head-to-head overtime victory on October 26 at Missouri. Missouri should be feeling good about their chances against Texas A&M after going on the road and welcoming back quarterback James Franklin to the field. Franklin completed 12 of 19 passes for 142 yards at Ole Miss in his first game back after missing time due to a shoulder injury. Maty Mauk filled in admirably in his place, giving Missouri head coach Gary Pinkell a little extra confidence in knowing his team can keep moving forward in the face of adversity.
Texas A&M is coming off a 34-10 loss at LSU last weekend. It was a game that forced many to suggest Manziel fell out of the Heisman Trophy race. To be fair, it was Manziel’s worst performance as a starting quarterback over the past two seasons, with the 2012 Heisman winner completing just 16 of 41 pass attempts for 224 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions. Manziel did not get much support though, with the Aggies getting gashed for 517 yards by LSU’s offense, including 324 yards on the ground. That will serve as the blueprint for Missouri this weekend as well, and should work out well. Missouri has the SEC’s second-leading rushing offense behind Auburn, averaging 238.0 yards per game. The Aggies have allowed a SEC worst 221.0 rushing yards per game. If Missouri sticks to the game plan and lets Henry Josey control the tempo with steady carries mixed in with some complimentary Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, the Tigers should be able to have their way with Texas A&M at home.
The key to utilizing the running game to their advantage will be keeping Manziel and Mike Evans, the SEC’s best wide receiver, off the field as much as possible. The Aggies have quick-strike ability any time that duo is on the field, but Missouri will counter with one of the SEC’s more turnover-happy pass defenses. Missouri gives up a lot of passing yards, so Manziel should be able to rack up some good numbers in his regular season finale. Missouri also leads the conference in interceptions, with 18 to 14 touchdowns allowed, so Missouri will also likely come up with some Manziel passes at times. Capitalizing on them will be important as much as running as much clock as possible.
Missouri may not want to get in to a shootout with Manziel and the Aggies, but Texas A&M has come up short in a pair of high-scoring games this season already s it should not be something Missouri fears.