COLUMBIA, Mo. – LSU set the template for No. 5 Missouri. Keep Johnny Manziel in the middle of the field, and the Heisman Trophy winner can be contained.
Coach Gary Pinkel knows that's easier said than done.
"I don't know if you ever truly stop him," Pinkel said. "Everybody will say, 'Do exactly what LSU did.' I don't think every team and every player is perfect all the time."
Manziel came close last year against the Tigers, throwing for three touchdowns and running for two more scores to help the Aggies run up a 42-7 halftime lead in a 59-29 blowout.
Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC) dropped 10 spots to 19th in the poll after getting manhandled on the road in a 34-10 loss last week. Manziel was held to one touchdown pass and intercepted twice, and for the first time in his career he fell short of 50 percent completion.
LSU's ends stayed wide to neutralize Manziel's improvisational skills, with great success. Sure, that gives the Tigers some confidence.
"I mean yes, I guess you could say that," said senior defensive back E.J. Gaines, a Fort Osage High School graduate. "But it doesn't happen very often."
Watch for Missouri (10-1, 6-1) to at least give it a try.
"We're certainly going to be tested with this guy," Pinkel said. "He's a better player than he was a year ago."
There's a lot riding on this one for the Tigers. Win, and they take the SEC East and advance to the conference championship Dec. 7 in Atlanta. Lose, and South Carolina gets the nod based on its overtime victory at Missouri.
Texas A&M seeks to right the ship and improve its bowl position amid intrigue. Manziel could announce soon whether he'll return for his junior season or enter the NFL draft.
Some things to look for in Texas A&M-Missouri:
GROUND GAME: Missouri running back Henry Josey is all the way back from a left knee injury so serious Pinkel had doubts he'd be 100 percent again, saying "it was more like a car wreck than an athletic injury." Josey had two of the Tigers' three scores last week, his second straight two-TD game, and he's closing in on 1,000 yards. The senior missed the end of the 2011 season and all of 2012. "I think he's playing as good or better than he has ever played," Pinkel said. "It's great to see it. He's untouchable – do not say a bad word about Josey."
STINGY DEFENSE: Texas A&M's offense leads the SEC with a 45.7-point average but is coming off a dud. Missouri is second in the league allowing just 19 points, and is coming off a superior effort in a 24-10 victory at Ole Miss. The Rebels had been averaging 34.5 points but mustered just one field goal in three trips inside the 20, and twice came up empty after having first-and-goal.
BOUNCING BACK: Before last week, the Aggies hadn't lost by double digits. They had the ball for less than 20 minutes at LSU. They've got to get over it. "I drive through here at a gas station and it's like the sky is falling," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "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."
SENIOR NIGHT: The home finale always is an emotional experience for Pinkel, who lets the tears flow and hugs everyone during the pre-game ceremony. Players know they'll have to change gears quickly, and put the game face back on, after getting their name announced before a sellout crowd and then getting greeted by family. "I know my mom will cry, my dad will probably too, and I'll have my daughter out there," offensive tackle Justin Britt said. "To be determined. I've seen some great players who had great careers here, and they didn't cry."
BIG TARGET: Six-foot-5 receiver Mike Evans has become a favorite target of Manziel. Evans is second in the nation with 1,314 yards receiving and is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. He is the only SEC receiver with two games with more than 225 yards receiving. His 279 yards receiving against Alabama broke a school record that had stood since 1965. Evans leads the nation in catches of 30 yards or longer with 17 and his 12 touchdown receptions lead the SEC and are fourth in the nation.