COLUMBIA — The Missouri defense held Johnny Manziel and his high-powered Aggies to one yard over the last three drives on Saturday night.
“Johnny Football” showed flashes of elusiveness — including his choice not to speak with media after the game — but they weren’t enough to make up for the offensive collapse late in the final quarter.
The performance by Manziel, the first Heisman Trophy winner to play at Memorial Stadium since Billy Sims in 1979, was ultimately underwhelming.
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.”
The line “got” Manziel quite a bit.
The front four tallied just two sacks but knocked down the star quarterback several times. Manziel limped off the field after a huge hit by Kony Ealy in the second quarter, and television cameras caught him grimacing in obvious pain on the sideline.
To Manziel’s credit, he didn’t miss a single snap and impressed Pinkel enough to draw comparisons to a Hall-of-Famer.
“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.”
The sellout crowd of 67,124 at Memorial Stadium had to wait awhile to see a patented Johnny Football moment.
Missouri and Texas A&M engaged in a defensive battle for much of the first half, but with little over four minutes left in the second quarter, Manziel took a shotgun snap before rolling to his left.
Just before defensive end Michael Sam caught him with a big hit from behind, Manziel unleashed a deep rainbow to the end zone. Aggies receiver Derel Walker located the ball and caught it just as safety Matt White converged.
The perfect bomb on the run resulted in a 32-yard touchdown and the seven points the Aggies would take into halftime.
“He’s a warrior,” Texas A&M Travis Labhart said. “He never lets any part of the game slow him down when he gets injured or hurt. He’s the best player in the country still in my eyes.”
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin, who just signed a six-year contract extension, likely coached his final regular season game with Manziel under center. The quarterback is widely expected to enter the NFL Draft this spring.
“There’s a lot of pressure on him to perform at a high level all the time,” Sumlin said. “Quarterbacks are like the head coach: you get too much credit when you win and most of the blame when you lose. When you don’t win, everyone focuses on that. For us to be effective, it’s going to have to be more than one guy making plays.”
Johnny Football’s final numbers on the night: 24-for-35 for 195 passing yards and the touchdown. He added just 21 yards on 11 rushes.
“We know they had a great player in Manziel, and our key was to keep him contained, which we did,” Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers said. “He made a couple big plays, but we also made a couple big plays on him."
The three defensive stops were the key to the 28-21 Missouri win, but Pinkel was still nervous when the Tigers offense picked up two first downs to run the rest of the clock down.
When playing against the Heisman Trophy winner, heartbreak is always waiting around the corner. But Johnny Football didn’t get his final chance to crush the BCS dreams at Faurot Field.
“We never got the ball back to Johnny Manziel,” Pinkel said with relief.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.