While the rise of Auburn in the SEC West is quite stunning, it’s even more surprising to see Missouri coming out with only one loss from the SEC East, a year after joining the conference and looking like a team that’s going to need a lot more time before they adjust to realignment. Their 28-21 win over Texas A&M puts them in the conference championship game, something no one would have imagined when this season began.
In quite the back and forth contest between this forced rivals, James Franklin was the quarterback finishing with his hand out on top, beating Johnny Manziel, who doesn’t have too much left in him at the end of the season. Franklin threw two touchdown passes and 233 passing yards, also adding 80 yards on the ground, as Mizzou became the next team to make the most of the awful defense Texas A&M has put on this year.
Most of the time, Franklin was targeting Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington. The two combined to account for two thirds of Missouri’s targeting and 80% of their receiving yards. Washington caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown, Green-Beckham caught 7 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t much different from the rest of this season, as 41% of Franklin’s passes were targeted at them both during the season.
Johnny Manziel and his offensive line struggled with Missouri’s pass-rush, which was mostly about sending four players, nothing more. He averaged only 5.6 yards per attempt, 4.4 fewer yards per attempt than his average coming into the game. Missouri leads all AQ schools in rate of sending four or fewer pass rushers after the opposing quarterback this season. They also managed to eliminate the deep threat from Manziel’s arm – He attempted five passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield, completing two, tied for his fewest such completions this season. Coming into the game, he was averaging 9.8 such throws per game.
This tells everybody in the whole United States that Mizzou’s the real deal. Last year was just last year. It’s not about that, it’s just about what we’re capable of doing and what we’re going to do and how we did it.
How real of a deal are they? The win over the Aggies was their fifth of the season over a ranked team, which certainly helps with the computers, but probably won’t be enough with the pollsters, unless they look quite convincing in the SEC championship game while Ohio State either lose or look pretty bad against Michigan State. Missouri came out of nowhere, without a preseason ranking, which always hurts, but looking deeper into their record reveals that their wins were more a combination of perfect timing than actual being a powerhouse in the SEC East.
It doesn’t really matter to anyone in Columbia. Their one loss this season was an overtime one to South Carolina, which means they have as good of a claim as any to the national title spot next to Florida State, pending the conference championship game results. In a final week that brought us plenty of surprises, maybe Missouri finding themselves a win away from the greatest achievement in the program’s history is only the beginning for the Tigers.