Henry Josey watched helplessly from the sideline last fall, rehabbing from a serious knee injury, while Missouri was getting pushed around in its first SEC season.
The senior running back’s legs produced the go-ahead score in a win that put the fifth-ranked Tigers in the SEC championship game.
"Those guys were 5 yards away from me before I could even get close to them," Josey said of his breakaway 57-yard run that helped Missouri wrap up the SEC East with a 28-21 victory over No. 19 Texas A&M on Saturday night. "A big hole opened up and I took it."
Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC) advances to the conference championship game against Auburn — a matchup of schools very lightly regarded before the season. Missouri has made a six-win improvement from its initial SEC season and fourth-ranked Auburn (11-1, 7-1) has topped last year’s total by eight after stunning No. 1 Alabama.
"This tells everybody in the whole United States that Mizzou’s the real deal," said wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who caught seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. "Last year was just last year.
"It’s not about that, it’s just about what we’re capable of doing and what we’re going to do and how we did it."
Missouri beat its fourth ranked opponent and reached 11 wins for the third time in school history, twice under Pinkel. Another win matches the school record set in 2007.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel was held in check for the second straight week, throwing one touchdown pass and rushing for 21 yards on 11 carries. He was 24 for 35 for 195 yards.
"In the second half, we all calmed down and we communicated," linebacker Kentrell Brothers said. "We were all on the same page and got it done."
Coach Kevin Sumlin didn’t make Manziel available for the post-game. Reports have indicated Manziel, a redshirt sophomore, is close to making a decision whether to enter the NFL draft next April.
"He’s had better performances, he’s had worse performances," Sumlin said. "There’s pressure on him to perform at a high level all the time."
Sumlin discounted a report Manziel, also held to one TD pass last week in a loss at LSU, has been hampered by a thumb injury
"If he wasn’t healthy enough to play, he wouldn’t have played," Sumlin said.
The Aggies (8-4, 4-4) have lost consecutive games for the first time under coach Kevin Sumlin, who the school said earlier in the day agreed in principle on a new six-year contract that could keep him on the job through 2019. He’s 19-6.
Thousands of fans among a sellout crowd of 62,197 — nearly all of them clad in black, stormed the field after the game ended. The field wasn’t cleared for at least 20 minutes.
Missouri had been 11-44 under Pinkel when trailing at the half. Pinkel has 101 wins in 13 seasons at Missouri, tied for Don Faurot for most in school history.
Texas A&M has one of the worst defenses against the run in the nation, allowing 221 yards per game. Missouri totaled 225 yards with a 5.1-yard average, but until Josey’s breakaway run, the Aggies had done a nice job
Starting from its 34, Missouri’s decisive string began innocently with a 4-yard carry by Josey and a 5-yard carry by quarterback James Franklin. Josey busted free up the middle on third-and-1.
"What a great play," coach Gary Pinkel said. "What a great kid."
Texas A&M never threatened the rest of the game and has lost four of the last five in the series. The exception was a showcase for Manziel, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for two scores in a 59-29 rout last year that was a 35-point rout by halftime.
Tra Carson broke two tackles on a 31-yard scoring run that was also the first touchdown allowed by Missouri in the first quarter in six games. Derel Walker’s 32-yard reception made it 14-7 late in the half.
Walker’s score came just 1:10 after Franklin’s 38-yard touchdown pass to L’Damian Washington. Manziel rolled out to buy time and Michael Sam tackled him a beat too late.
Early in the second quarter, Missouri failed to capitalize on a lost fumble by punt returner De’Vante Harris at the A&M 36. Backup Maty Mauk got his usual early series at quarterback and Missouri lost a yard on three plays before punting.