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Manziel gets Tigers’ attention

COLUMBIA — There’s Johnny Manziel the football player — talented, flashy, elusive, breathtaking at times. Then there’s Johnny Manziel the person — polarizing, enigmatic, volatile, a sometimes distraction.

The Missouri Tigers are more concerned with the Heisman Trophy-winning aspect of Manziel, as the Texas A&M quarterback comes to Faurot Field for a matchup between the No. 5 Tigers (10-1, 6-1 SEC) and Aggies (8-3, 4-3 SEC) at 6:45 p.m. Saturday (ESPN-TV).

“I can’t answer that, I don’t know him,” Missouri defensive end Markus Golden said of his thoughts on Manziel as a person.

There’s more than enough to worry about when it comes to slowing down the notorious Johnny Football.

“He’s a great player, we all know that,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “I don’t know if you ever stop him.”

“You have to contain him the best you can. You’re going to have to score points. There’s nothing magic about this. I think we’re playing pretty good defense and we’re certainly going to be tested with this guy. He’s a better player than he was a year ago, and he was great when he won the Heisman Trophy. That kind of tells the story.”

There is a modicum of truth to Pinkel’s claim. Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012 after throwing for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdown passes to nine interceptions. He also ran for 1,410 yards with 21 touchdowns. While Manziel’s passing numbers are up in 2013 — tossing for 3,573 yards with a game to go with 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions — his rushing numbers are way down — 665 yards for eight touchdowns, albeit on 79 fewer attempts thus far.

“He’s just hard to tackle,” Pinkel said. “Not too many people can get to him before he gets rid of the football or makes a play or scores or what have you.”

About the only team to have any real success against Manziel is LSU.

The Tigers from the South pressured Manziel into his worst game of the season during a 34-10 victory for LSU last week. Manziel completed just 39 percent of his passes for 224 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. It was the same story in 2012, as Manziel completed just 51 percent of his passes for 276 yards, three interceptions and no touchdown passes.

“LSU obviously did a good job,” Pinkel said. “Everybody’s going to say, ‘Do exactly what LSU did.’ Every team, every player isn’t perfect all the time. He’s such a great player. You watch him game in, game out … and you see how the consistency of what he does and how he plays.”

LSU corralled Manziel by rushing defenders off the edge, almost boxing Manziel into the pocket. But just because LSU established that blueprint, it doesn’t mean it will work for Misssouri.

“People would say LSU tried to box him in where he couldn’t get out, and they had some success with that,” Pinkel said. “That being said, that’s happened a little bit to him. But you look at all of the plays he’s had this year, the last two years, and it’s difficult to contain him. If it was easy, everybody would have done it.

“You have to look at your personnel. You have to look at the schemes that you run, you can’t all of a sudden run a different defense, all of a sudden play coverages you’ve never played before. LSU has their number right now, obviously nobody else has. You look at it and try to learn things and apply what you can that’s best for your team.”

With all the hoopla, hype and shenanigans surround Johnny Football, it’s certainly a welcome challenge for the Tigers with him coming to town.

“You have to be ready every snap playing a guy like that,” senior cornerback E.J. Gaines said. “You obviously see what he can do every Saturday, and he’s done it consistently.

“These are definitely the fun games that you live for in college football.”

While Gaines managed a measure of success against Manziel last season, picking off a pass, the Tigers did not. Manziel tossed for 372 yards and three touchdowns as Texas A&M romped to a 59-29 victory.

“An interception’s an interception, but this year I’d rather get the win,” Gaines said.

As far as the other side of the ball goes, is there any pressure on James Franklin and the Missouri offense to match Manziel and his cadre of talented receivers?

“Not too much,” Franklin said. “I don’t want to think about it too much. Going into (the Ole Miss) game, I was kind of thinking, ‘I need to do good, I can’t do bad,’ and I didn’t do as good as I wanted or as good as I had been before I got hurt. Try not to think of it, just go out there and play some football and score some points.”

ESPN and Manziel, the Missouri Tigers with a shot to clinch a berth in the SEC title game.

Let the salivating commence.

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