In a SEC regular-season finale, No. 21 Texas A&M will close its year against SEC East leader and No. 5 Missouri in a matchup that will have major-league title implications. With the win, the Tigers will advance to Atlanta to face the winner of Saturday's Iron Bowl between No. 4 Auburn and top-ranked Alabama.
While Missouri certainly owns a powerful motivating factor entering the game, A&M maintains a high level of incentive as well, as a victory would catapult the Aggies into a top-tier bowl berth and a shot at consecutive double-digit win seasons.
Meanwhile for Missouri, the game offers both a chance for revenge after last year's 59-29 loss at Kyle Field and a shot to reach its first conference championship in just its second year with the league.
Time: 7:45 p.m. ET, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013
Location: Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Mo.
Radio: Texas A&M Radio Network
Spread: Missouri stands as a three-point favorite over Texas A&M, per vegasinsider.com
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
Last week against LSU, the usually potent A&M offense was contained consistently by the Tigers, but a resurgent effort against Mizzou would provide the defense with the margin it needs to play its scheme down the stretch. Quarterback Johnny Manziel and his rhythm, something the sophomore said he was missing against LSU, will be a key storyline, especially to start the matchup.
Balanced Defensive Look
Missouri's offensive balance has allowed the Tigers a dynamic look throughout the season, and containing it has been a workload for every team on Mizzou's schedule. As such, the A&M defense needs to find a way to shut down both quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, a tough task for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.
On the season, the Missouri defense leads the conference and ranks fourth nationally in both sacks (35) and interceptions (18). For Manziel, who threw just one touchdown pass last week while notching two picks, realigning his pocket presence will be of vital importance against Missouri.
After a rough opening season with the conference, Missouri has surged offensively behind quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey. The balanced pass-rush system has been highly efficient, allowing the Tigers a deadly attack overall against many of the SEC's top defenses.
Imitate LSU Defensively
In Johnny Manziel's two seasons under center for Texas A&M, the Heisman-winner quarterback has been surgical when ripping apart defenses...save for LSU. The Tigers have held the quarterback twice to under a 100 QBR—the only two of his career—while forcing two losses.
If Missouri imitates LSU defensively Saturday, containing college football's most dynamic athlete may be easier than one may think.
As noted before, Missouri leads the SEC in sacks with 35, and a powerful pass rush has annoyed quarterbacks all season. Continuing the same tradition against the Aggies' veteran offensive line will be key down the stretch of this game, especially when trying to shut down Manziel.
QB Johnny Manziel
Statistically, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has been just as or more efficient than last season's dynamic performance. However, three losses have weighed down the sophomore's repeat bid for the prestigious honor, and heading into Missouri, A&M's level of bowl berth may rely on Manziel's arm and legs on the road.
RB Ben Malena
Last week in the 34-10 loss to LSU, A&M running backs received a grand total of six carries, with starter Ben Malena grabbing just three. Looking forward, the Aggie rush attack will be provide a crucial release valve for this high-octane offense, and Malena stepping up will be key.
WR Mike Evans
The Biletnikoff semifinalist has been deadly all season at wideout, and despite a poor performance against LSU, he should be looking for a revival against Mizzou at Memorial Stadium.
QB James Franklin
Despite suffering an injury midseason during a defining victory over Georgia, Franklin has returned looking to lead Missouri to its first SEC Title game since joining the league just last season. With the missing time, Franklin's numbers are under par, but his presence on the field has been noticeable and will be vital for the Tigers on Saturday.
RB Henry Josey
Josey's consistency this season has been highly underrated, as he has maintained a rushing attack for the Tigers throughout. Against an A&M defense that struggled mightily containing the run, Josey is set to be a factor in the outcome of this matchup.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham
After snaring the No. 1 recruit ranking just two offseasons ago, Green-Beckham has been a matchup horror for defensive backs around the conference. Against A&M, the situation will be no different, as cornerbacks De'Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett will be forced into a tough task guarding the top-tier receiver.
During Texas A&M's weekly Tuesday press conference at the Bright Complex, head coach Kevin Sumlin discussed the attitude surrounding both his team and the program as a whole, noting the LSU loss is not the end of the world.
“I think they're just ready to play," Sumlin said. "I don't think anybody's mad or anything. I drive through here at a gas station and it's like the sky is falling around here. We lost to LSU on the road as an underdog, the first time we've lost by double digits. We're playing a real season with real opponents and real games. Are we where we want to be right now? No. But that doesn't mean the sky is falling. We're going into another game as an underdog and the difference is people expect us to win. That's a completely different attitude than when I first got here.”
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder broke down Missouri quarterback James Franklin's advantage, saying his experience under center was a deadly edge on the field.
“[Franklin] is a very experienced player, that's what he brings to the table," Snyder said. "Very patient in the pocket, does a really good job of running their offense. When you watch the film on him, he's a very poised kid. Very poised and does a really good job of running that offense.”
Texas A&M 52 Missouri 45
This game holds major implications for both Missouri and Texas A&M, but since joining the SEC, the Aggies haven't lost twice in a row and have been a force on the road. Last week's 24-point loss to LSU in Death Valley was a wake-up call for this program, and Saturday in Missouri will have a ripple effect down the stretch of the next few years.