Mississippi St.-Texas A&M Preview
Johnny Manziel was starting his decisive run to the Heisman Trophy the last time he faced Mississippi State, though coach Kevin Sumlin believes his star quarterback is playing even better heading into this meeting.
The red-hot Manziel will try to lead No. 11 Texas A&M to its 10th straight home win against an unranked opponent Saturday when it takes on the Bulldogs.
Manziel was just beginning to emerge as a favorite in the Heisman race last November when he went 30 of 36 for 311 yards and rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-13 win at No. 17 Mississippi State.
A week later, he took control in the eyes of the voters by leading Texas A&M to a 29-24 victory at top-ranked Alabama.
During the Aggies' six-game winning streak to close the 2012 season, Manziel connected on 73.4 percent of his attempts and averaged 291.7 passing yards while throwing 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. He averaged 117.8 rushing yards and ran for 11 scores in that stretch.
Manziel is looking to finish his sophomore season in similar fashion after going 16 of 24 for 273 yards with four TDs and no picks in a 57-7 win over UTEP last Saturday. He also rushed for 67 yards and two scores.
Perhaps his biggest contribution came on the sidelines when he called a meeting to voice his displeasure with how poorly the offense was playing early in the game. The Aggies (7-2, 3-2 SEC) trailed by five points in the first quarter before scoring 55 straight.
"He just made a great leadership speech," said receiver Travis Labhart, who had four catches for 83 yards and two scores. "Told us to get back to doing what we do."
After throwing for an average of 344.0 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in his last three games, Manziel ranks in the nation's top five with 2,867 yards, 26 passing TDs and a 72.5 completion percentage.
While Manziel appears to be trailing Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston in this year's Heisman race, Sumlin feels his quarterback has improved since winning the award last season.
"He's playing football and doing what he likes to do," Sumlin said. "I've had a number of questions (this week) comparing where he is now compared to where he was last year, and obviously he's playing better."
The Aggies' Mike Evans, who had nine catches for 97 yards in last year's meeting, ranks second in the country with 1,147 yards and third with 12 touchdowns.
Texas A&M sits third nationally with 582.6 yards and fourth at 49.0 points per game as it takes on a Mississippi State team that has allowed an average of 33.8 points and 394.8 yards in its last four contests.
Though the Bulldogs rank fourth in the SEC in pass defense at 204.4 yards per game, they've given up an average of 175.8 rushing yards in their last four.
Manziel leads the Aggies with 564 yards on 5.9 per carry and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Quarterback Dak Prescott, who has started every game for the Bulldogs (4-4, 1-3), will play Saturday after leaving the team following the death of his mother.
"That's a difficult situation for anyone, especially a young man of his age," Sumlin said. "He certainly has given them a different element. He's a big strong guy that can throw it and just run through people."
Prescott will try to bounce back after completing 28 of 43 passes for 235 yards with a career-high three interceptions and one fumble in a 34-16 loss at then-No. 14 South Carolina last Saturday. The sophomore also leads the Bulldogs with 568 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Prescott will face an improving Texas A&M defense that has caused seven turnovers in the last two games.
Mississippi State has dropped 21 of 23 on the road against ranked opponents.