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November 24, 2012

Home for the holidays

COLLEGE STATION -- Entering the season, Texas A&M was the SEC greenhorn with all the questions -- with its new coach, new quarterback and new conference. Missouri was the SEC greenhorn ready to handle the rigors of the Grand Ol' Conference -- a steady coach, a darkhorse Heisman-candidate at quarterback and a defense full of returning starters.

The narrative that framed the early part of the 2012 season was buried deep under Kyle Field on Saturday night. It was buried under 59 points. Buried under 647 total yards by Texas A&M. Buried in a hole dug almost solely by Johnny Manziel.


The most anticipated season in Missouri's recent history found its grave in a 59-29 loss to Texas A&M. Manziel completed 32 of 44 passes for 372 yards and three touchdown passes, finishing with 439 total yards as the Aggies scored touchdowns on their first six possessions of the first half.

The seventh? That was a one-play kneel-down by Manziel after Missouri scored its lone points of the first half on a four-yard run by Kendial Lawrence.

Three months ago, it looked like James Franklin would be the dual-threat quarterback who would take the SEC by storm. Three months ago, it wasn't even certain that Manziel would start for the Aggies, let alone carve his way to at least an invite to New York City in mid-December.

Now, that invitation is a formality -- it's a "Save-The-Date" to his own wedding. As Manziel moved the Aggies at will before indifference and apathy took over, Franklin stood on Missouri's sideline. It was another game lost for a forgettable season by Missouri's once-hyped quarterback. After missing games with injuries to his shoulder and knee, a concussion against Syracuse kept him out of the season finale. He wore black shorts and his jersey as his understudy, Corbin Berkstresser, struggled and stalled in the first half.

"I couldn't get in a rhythm against their defense," Berkstresser said. "We were trying to play catch up the whole game."

Berkstresser got better as the game continued. The redshirt freshman completed 11 of 23 passes for 124 yards by halftime, but was more efficient in the second half. He lead Missouri to three scoring drives in the first 17 minutes of the second half, throwing for a 74-yard touchdown to L'Damian Washington and running for a one-yard score early in the fourth quarter. Berkstresser finished 20 of 38 for 276 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

By that point, however, it was too late. Berkstresser's run cut Texas A&M's lead to 52-23. Yet Manziel answered with a one-yard touchdown of his own, stretching the ball over the goal line after it looked like he was stopped short.

It was that kind of night for Missouri in that kind of season. So often, it looked like Missouri had Manziel trapped. So often, Manziel found open receivers downfield and in the endzone as the collective eyes of the Tigers' defenders drifted behind the line of scrimmage.

Manziel was ruthlessly efficient, leading his offense to a perfect 11-for-11 start on third downs. The Aggies would finish 12-for-16 in that category. Manziel's lone miscue was a third-quarter interception to E.J. Gaines on a jumped route against Missouri's sideline. It was also the lone bright spot on the evening for Missouri's once-stout, suddenly pourous defense.

"The things he did to us he did to a lot of people," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

In the Tigers' final three games of the season, the defense surrendered 1,742 yards of offense.

Now, Missouri heads home for the season, a bowl berth impossible after a 5-7 season and 70 teams reaching the magic mark of six wins. The Aggies await their bowl fortune with ten wins, a Heisman-candidate at quarterback and their team as settled as it's been in years.

Missouri's long-term fate is still a work in progress.


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