Missouri leads the conference in sacks (35) and total pressures (109) this season.
The Missouri Tigers are just one win away from clinching the SEC East title. First, it must conquer reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies (Saturday, 7:45 ET on ESPN). Manziel has been as productive as ever this season, leading all BCS-automatic-qualifying (AQ) quarterbacks in total offense (382 yards per game) and touchdowns responsible for (40).
Before last week’s loss to LSU, Texas A&M had scored 40 or more points in 13 consecutive games, tied for the longest streak in major college football history. However, Missouri has not allowed more than 28 points in a game all season.
In order to slow down Manziel and win the division, Missouri’s defense will need to rely on arguably its two biggest strengths: its pass rush and its ability to defend in goal-to-go situations.
Manziel vs Missouri’s Pass Rush
Missouri has been the best pass-rushing team in the SEC, leading the conference in sacks (35) and total pressures (109). That pressure is a large reason why it has forced an SEC-high 16 interceptions.
The Tigers have allowed just one touchdown pass all season when pressuring the opposing quarterback, though it came at a costly time, by South Carolina’s Connor Shaw during the Gamecocks’ fourth-quarter comeback that eventually led to Missouri’s only loss.
When Manziel has been forced to throw under pressure, he has been ineffective, completing 44 percent of his passes. In the Aggies’ last two losses, Manziel threw two interceptions, was sacked five times and completed 36 percent of his passes while under pressure.
Missouri’s pass rush is largely generated by three- and four-man rushes. Its 30 sacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers leads all AQ schools.
However, Manziel has been elite at torching such rushes. When the opponent sends four-or-fewer rushers, he has thrown for 21 touchdowns on 10.0 yards per attempt and has scrambled for an AQ-high 417 yards on 7.3 yards per scramble.
Overall, he leads all AQ quarterbacks with 530 scramble yards.
Missouri has been effective at containing quarterback scrambles lately, allowing a total of 27 scramble yards in the last five games combined.
Missouri’s Defense in Goal-to-Go Situations
Another area where Missouri’s defense has been elite is in goal-to-go situations. Missouri allows touchdowns on 48 percent of goal-to-go attempts, best among AQ teams. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 21 QBR in those situations.
Manziel has been mistake-prone in goal-to-go situations with four interceptions. No other FBS player has thrown for more than two. His 28 QBR in those situations ranks 110th out of 127 qualified quarterbacks.
The Tigers goal-to-go run defense has also been strong, allowing 0.4 yards per carry in the red zone, fewest in the SEC. However, four of the seven rushing touchdowns Missouri has allowed have come from quarterbacks. Manziel leads all SEC quarterbacks with six rushing touchdowns in goal-to-go situations.
If Manziel can be efficient close to the goal line, Missouri may be in trouble. The only quarterback responsible for multiple goal-to-go touchdowns against Missouri this season was Shaw in the Tigers’ only loss.