COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin doesn’t have to say much this week to motivate his team.
The ninth-ranked Aggies (9-2, 5-2 SEC) know what’s at stake as they aim for their first 10-win season since 1998, and try to break a three-game losing streak to Missouri.
“We’re playing a team that no one on this football team has ever beaten,” Sumlin said. “It’s senior day. That’ll be enough to get our attention right there.”
Sumlin also knows that his team can’t take Missouri (5-6, 2-5) lightly with the Tigers needing a win to become bowl eligible.
“Both sides have a lot to play for,” Sumlin said. “Last time I checked, they haven’t lost here in a while. I don’t think they’ll be lacking any confidence at all walking into this place.”
Because of a scheduling quirk, Missouri is playing the Aggies in College Station for the third straight season. They got a 30-9 win in 2010 and escaped with a 38-31 win in OT last season in the Big 12 before both teams moved to the Southeastern Conference.
“This has to be a world record, third time going down there,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel joked. “All teams are different. Our players have great respect for A&M and it is a great place to play a football game. That being said, the reason we won those games was because we played well and made plays at the end to win.”
The Tigers’ big task on Saturday will be trying to contain Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman is second in the nation in total offense with more than 378 yards a game, and the 20.73 points a game he’s responsible for are tied for third in the country.
He’s the fifth player and first freshman in FBS history to pass for at least 3,000 yards with at least 1,000 yards rushing in a season, and his 4,161 yards are a school record for total offense in a season.
“He’s a very, very impressive player,” Pinkel said. “He’s athletic, he throws the ball well and he’s accurate. He can throw off balance, he’s creative. When you watch film you wonder how he pulls stuff off but he does. He plays with a lot of confidence.”
Pinkel is certainly impressed with Manziel’s work, but noted that it has been helped by playing behind a talented and experienced offensive line. The group is led by senior center Patrick Lewis, who has started 46 straight games, and has junior tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, who have started 37 and 31 straight games, respectively.
Manziel accounted for five touchdowns in just more than a half of Texas A&M’s 47-28 win over Sam Houston State on Saturday. He needs another strong game to impress Heisman Trophy voters one more time before they make their decision.
Sumlin wouldn’t directly answer the question when asked if he thought Manziel should become the first freshman to win the award. But he did rave about his quarterback.
“If you look at his numbers and what he’s done compared to everyone else, they speak for themselves,” he said. “I’ll take it a step further, if you look at his numbers compared to anyone else who has ever played the game, they speak for themselves.”
Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury has enjoyed watching Manziel develop this season.
“To be a freshman and do what he’s done in that conference is hard to believe unless you’re a part of it and have watched it every day and how much he’s improved from Day 1 until now,” Kingsbury said. “It’s really been fun to watch.”
The Tigers quarterback situation is up in the air entering Saturday’s game. Starter James Franklin had a concussion last week against Syracuse and will be a game-time decision.
If he can’t go, Missouri will use redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser. He is 2-1 as a starter this season, and has thrown for 783 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions.
Whoever is at quarterback, he’ll be helped by the presence of senior running back Kendial Lawrence. Lawrence has scored 11 touchdowns and needs 62 yards to reach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.
“I’m sure he’ll have opportunities at the professional level,” Pinkel said. “He’s having a great year. Even with all our challenges on the offensive line it’s amazing that he almost has 1,000 yards. He’s very talented and a tough runner.”