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November 28, 2013

Here's Johnny

In 21 starts against teams not named LSU, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has averaged 410.67 yards per game. In two starts against those Bayou Tigers, however, the 2012 Heisman winner has posted games of 303 and 278 total yards.

Those games are his second and third least productive games of his career -- the first came in his first career start, where he totaled 233 yards in a 20-17 loss to Florida in the Aggies' 2012 kick-off.

Manziel's LSU problem goes deeper than just yardage, however. His two least-accurate games came against LSU, including this year where he completed 39-percent of his passes. He has one touchdown and five interceptions.

Now the task falls to No. 5-Missouri to find a way to stop Manziel. A year ago, Manziel posted 439 yards in the Aggies' 59-29 win over the Tigers in College Station. He completed 72.7 percent of his passes, and really his only miscue was a second-half interception when the game was already out of reach.

The question most seem to be asking this week, in preparation for Saturday's 6:45 PM kick off, is simple:

How does LSU stop Manziel?

What those Tigers did, according to many, is what these Tigers tried to do a year ago.

"Defensive-line wise, our hogs, the guys in the middle, they gotta get penetration in the middle," defensive end Kony Ealy said prior to last year's game. "Outside, the defensive ends, we've got to keep contain but also get pressure."

LSU used that tactic to keep Manziel in the pocket. The defensive ends didn't play contain, but they got up field and kept the shape of the pocket. The defensive tackles -- and blitzing linebackers -- began to constrict the pocket from the middle, forming a noose around Manziel.

It kept his big plays-from-broken plays minimal, and forced the game onto his arm. The play calling didn't do him any favors, either, as Aggies' running backs carried the ball just six times all game.

Seems simple, right?

Not necessarily. While all involved in the gameplan for Saturday admit they'll watch the video from Texas A&M's last two games against LSU, they can't just blindly mimic John Chavis' defense.

"I think everybody looks at everybody," Gary Pinkel said. "You gotta look at your personnel. You gotta look at the scheme that you run. You can't all of a sudden run a different defense or all of a sudden play coverages you've never played before. I just think LSU has their number right now. Obviously, nobody else has. You all look at it, try to learn things and apply things when you can that's best for your team."

"Obviously, we'll look at their game plan and try to ... incorporate it into our gameplan," defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said.

According to defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, A&M's offense isn't "complicated."

"They're exact," Steckel said. "And they're great skilled, and they're well coached."

But as for what LSU has done, Steckel said it's very simple.

"They tackled the guy with the ball," Steckel said. "That's defense, man.

"I think what they do is they do their defense, and they do it well. They keep their eyes on the quarterback. They play man, and they do a great job playing man and being on the guy. If you watch the film, and I tip my hat to LSU, they done what everyone's tried to do to the guy. They've just done it, if that makes sense."

So that's where Missouri will focus this week. There will likely be tweaks and twists to the defense, but the players and staff won't disclose that five days in advance. Vincent said the biggest factor for his position, for the defensive tackles, is to not "get washed past the pocket."

"He likes to step up the middle," Vincent said of Manziel. "Scrambled up the middle, so that's our job. We've got to keep him in there."

But what makes Manziel so dangerous, and Texas A&M's offense so dangerous, is the fact that defenses can be in position to make a play, yet a talented assortment of skill-position players avoid tackles and get downfield.

"I sound here like I'm an idiot, you know?," Steckel said. "But they tackle the guy with the ball. They do a great job tackling. You put other guys on video who are in the exact same position, and they don't make the tackle because they've got great skill guys."

Missouri will gameplan. They'll watch film of Manziel and the Aggies' offense. They'll look for clues in LSU's defense.

What they won't do, however, is watch the tape from last year. That loss will play no role in this week's game. Defensive end Markus Golden said they've "buried" that game, that season.

"It was embarrassing on our part," Vincent said. "But this is a new team. We don't need to go back there."

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