By Joe Vozzelli
As Missouri players walked off the turf at Kyle Field at the end of another blowout loss, they watched as their fellow newbies in the Southeastern Conference celebrated a 59-29 win and a 10-win season.
Saturday’s game at College Station, Texas, was about two teams that went in opposite directions in their first SEC seasons. Texas A&M finished 10-2 and 6-2 in the conference, is ranked in the Top 10 and may go to a BCS bowl game.
Missouri finished under .500, failed to win consecutive games — something that hasn’t happened since 2001 — and was never ranked in the Top 25 all year.
The frustration of missing bowl eligibility was felt by Kendial Lawrence. “The last three years I’ve been here we always went to a bowl game,” Lawrence said to the AP. “So this is tough to end this way.”
After a season of injuries, close losses and failed expectations, Missouri’s inaugural SEC season will go down as a dud.
For a brief while on Saturday, it looked like Texas A&M was in trouble.
Star quarterback Johnny Manziel lay down on the field, grabbing his left knee, as the crowd hushed to near silence.
On the previous play, Manziel escaped pressure and ran toward the right side of the field. Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines grabbed Manziel and ripped the redshirt freshman quarterback backward. Trainers rushed out to the field to tend to the player Aggies fans affectionately call “Johnny Football.” A few minutes passed before Manziel walked off the field with a slight limp.
One play later — with the trainers looking at Manziel on the Texas A&M bench — Aggies running back Christine Michael slashed through the Missouri defense for a 38-yard touchdown to give Texas A&M a 21-0 lead.
Michael’s rushing touchdown was a microcosm of the Aggies’ 59-29 victory over Missouri Saturday: it didn’t matter what Texas A&M did, the Missouri defense couldn’t stop the Aggies.
Manziel’s performance against the Tigers could be his signature game if he goes on to win the Heisman trophy next month. If Manziel does win the award, he’d be the only freshman in the 78-year history of the award to win it.
He finished the game 32-for-44 for 372 yards and three touchdowns against one interception. He also rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. His big game helped him break the Southeastern Conference record for most all-purpose yards, which was previously held by Auburn’s Cam Newton. Manziel finished the regular season with 4,600 total yards. Newton had 4,327 yards in 14 games in 2010. Manziel has only played 12 games.
“We don’t act like this is just real unusual that they scored some points,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said to the Associated Press. “It’s not. We’re talking about a great quarterback. I’m certainly disappointed we didn’t play better (but) the things he did to us, he did to a lot of people.”
Manziel missed one Texas A&M offense series — an Aggies three and out — before returning to the game. He seemed to perform better after the knee injury. With a knee brace on his left knee, he showed his ability as a duel-threat quarterback.
On one particular play at the Missouri 5-yard line, Manziel ran toward his left, escaped an attempted arm tackle from defensive end Michael Sam before making a hard cut back to the right side of the field. He unleashed a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Evans to give Texas A&M a 34-0 lead. After the play, Manziel saluted the raucous sellout crowd at Kyle Field.
Missouri (5-7, 2-6 SEC) failed to become bowl eligible, snapping a streak of seven straight bowl appearances, in what can only be described as a disastrous inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference. Missouri finished the season with a losing record for the first time since 2004; the Tigers finished 5-6 that year.
With one last shot to secure bowl eligibility, Missouri never had a chance Saturday and didn’t look anything close to the team that won three straight games against Texas A&M and two straight in College Station, Texas.
Missouri quarterback Corbin Berkstresser started in place of James Franklin, who missed his fourth start of the season. Franklin was listed as questionable on the injury report all week after he sustained a concussion during Missouri’s 31-27 loss to Syracuse last Saturday.
Berkstresser completed 20-of-38 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns against one interception. He didn’t have time to throw the ball downfield for much of the first half, choosing to go for short throws. Aggies defensive end Damontre Moore and defensive tackle Spencer Nealy pressured Berkstresser for much of the first half.
But even when Berkstresser did have time to throw, he struggled with confidence. He threw several low passes, which didn’t allow Missouri receivers to gain yards after the catch. By the time Missouri’s receivers caught the ball, Aggies defenders were on top of them and able to make easy tackles.
The Aggies jumped out to a 42-0 lead in the second quarter before Missouri made a dent in the scoring column. Senior tailback Kendial Lawrence — the Tigers’ only consistent offensive weapon all season — plunged into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left in the first half.
The Rockwall, Texas, native reached a milestone in his final game at Missouri. He rushed for 87 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown to reach 1,000 rushing yards this season for the first time in his career. He finished the year with 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Berkstresser settled down in the second half when the game was all-but-over. With the Aggies leading 52-10, he completed a 74-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver L’Damian Washington. In the fourth quarter, Berkstresser scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak and threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
Green-Beckham, the No. 1 recruit for the 2012 class according to Rivals.com, completed an up-and-down first year, which included a one game suspension after being arrested for marijuana possession in early October. He had a team-high five touchdowns this season.
Missouri’s 22 second-half points didn’t change the fact that Texas A&M was the far superior team. Missouri’s players showed that in their body language at the end of the game. They were hunched over with heads down. They looked beaten and confused.