By the end of the Tigers’ 28-21 victory, Manziel had thrown for 195 yards but rarely escaped the pocket or got past the line of scrimmage. Mizzou’s defense held the sophomore to 216 yards of total offense, his fewest yards in the 24 games he’s started in his college career.
How did the Tigers achieve what so few teams have done against the Aggie quarterback?
"Just getting after him, taking shots at him, running our feet and not lunging at him," Ealy said. "He’s really good at breaking out of tackles, spinning away. We knew what he liked to do."
Manziel wasn’t Texas A&M’s only elite playmaker. Wide receiver Mike Evans entered last night’s game with 1,314 receiving yards, the second most of any player in the FBS. Manziel’s favorite target had twice this season racked up more than 275 yards through the air, but he was barely involved against the Tigers.
Evans finished with four catches for only 8 yards, easily below his previous career low of 40 yards in last season’s upset victory at Alabama.
"They played a rolled corner over there and a high safety to him, and they had a plan with that," Sumlin said.
E.J. Gaines led Missouri’s effort against him, spending most of the night lined up across from him.
"That guy’s a great player, and he did not have a big impact on this game," Pinkel said. "We felt like if we could kind of control him, contain him, that would help us win it."
For most of the game, the redshirt sophomore showed flashes of brilliance but couldn’t capitalize. He dodged several defenders throughout, and made almost every member of the Missouri defensive line look silly at some point. But the defense did something it simply could not in last November’s 59-29 loss: It made Johnny Football look human.
"We were relentless," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Just the effort. Our defensive line wanted him so bad. They wanted a piece of him every chance they got." [...]
"He’s a great, great player," Pinkel said. "John Elway was always the best college player I’d ever seen, and this guy is … he’s had one or two out of 24 games that not have been up to par.
"I think they (the defense) just got him off-sync, forced him to run out there. We were playing good coverage. Then it’s just a matter of not letting him up the middle because he can do so much damage."
Johnny Manziel vs. Missouri (2012): 32-for-44, 372 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, no sacks (8.5 yards per pass attempt); 12 carries, 67 yards (5.6), two touchdowns
Johnny Manziel vs. Missouri (2013): 24-for-35, 195 yards, one touchdown, two sacks for 11 yards (5.0 yards per pass attempt); nine carries, 32 yards (3.6), no touchdowns
Mike Evans vs. Missouri (2012): nine targets, eight catches, 99 yards, one touchdown.
Mike Evans vs. Missouri (2013): four targets, four catches, eight yards
First things first: Johnny Manziel is worth the price of admission. Even when less than 100 percent, his ability to escape defenders and keep his eyes downfield is simply uncanny. It makes no sense watching him do some of the things he does. His 32-yard touchdown pass to Derel Walker, perfectly accurate even while getting taken down by Michael Sam, was just an incredible play. He truly is something else.
But while Missouri's offensive line struggled more than I expected it to against Texas A&M, Missouri's defensive line was brilliant, frequently harassing Manziel and forcing A&M to take to the outside to find any running lanes; because A&M's offense is excellent, the Aggies did find some room to run, sealing off edges and breaking Brandon Williams, Trey Williams, and Tra Carson loose for 144 yards on 18 carries (8.0 per carry). But by taking away A&M's first two options, the Tigers handcuffed this potent offense. Only once all season had the Aggies been held under 41 points or 7.0 yards per play. Missouri limited them to 21 and 5.4.
This offense is a machine even when Manziel is dinged up, and this was just an incredible all-around effort.