COLUMBIA, Mo. — The perception that all the pressure in the world is resting on the Missouri Tigers as they now are within one game of the SEC’s East Division title doesn’t really get to coach Gary Pinkel.
Pinkel insists he feels that heat every week as it is.
“Every game is like this (stressed),” he said Monday at his weekly media session. “I’ve talked to other coaches and how they are on game days or game nights and they tell me it’s great that they can sit around during the day and watch (other) games.
“I can’t do that. (By Saturday) I’m ready to stab myself.”
Pinkel, of course, can’t let on to his players about his stress level. He wants them focused, but calm and confident as they prepare to play host to Texas A&M on Saturday at Faurot Field. A victory plops them into the SEC title game against either Alabama or Auburn.
“Really, this is fun,” Pinkel said. “This is why you do it. It’s neat to be a part of it.”
Preparing for games with so much at stake, such as this Saturday, takes a lighter coaching touch sometimes, Pinkel said.
“We talk about learning to do away with the clutter surrounding games like this,” Pinkel said. “You lean on your seniors, on your players to perform leadership roles. You go through the week and prepare, go through the ‘grind’ as we call it. I think these guys get it. They’ll be fine.”
Pinkel, though, is another story. His tendency, still, is to sometimes get too amped up early in the week and especially as the game itself unfolds.
“I’m so into the game at hand….you know, I’ve never heard the cannon go off (at Faurot Field) since I’ve been here,” he said. “But you learn through time to control yourself. When I first started coaching, I was ready to play the game on Tuesday. Then you learn to at least wait until Friday.”
Pinkel, who admits to being an in-season insomniac, will have plenty of scary visions to keep him staring at the ceiling each night this week, like Johnny Manziel running crazy and free around Faurot Field.
“He’s a great player, obviously,” Pinkel said. “I don’t know if you can ever stop him. You can contain him best you can, and then you try to score as many points as you can.
“Our defense will be tested severely. He’s a better player this season than he was last year, and he won the Heisman last year.”
But Manziel’s shaky performance in a 34-10 loss to LSU last week probably assured that he won’t get a repeat Heisman this season. Still, Pinkel doesn’t necessarily believe that LSU provided the blue print to stopping him, even though he was only 16 of 41 for 224 yards with two interceptions last Saturday.
“Every coach looks at the games and at what works,” Pinkel said. “But you just can’t go run a different defense than you’ve played all year. I just think LSU had his number.”
So how do you contain Manziel?
“You have to focus on tackling him and that’s hard,” Pinkel said. “He makes you lose leverage. LSU seemed to do a good job of boxing him in and he couldn’t get out.”
The other key is keeping Manziel antsy on the sideline by playing keep away.
That’s something Missouri’s power running game should be able to handle.
Mizzou ground out 260 yards rushing last week against Mississippi, and finished off the game’s final eight minutes and eight seconds with a punishing drive, all on the ground.
“You do that with a lot of hard running and an offensive line doing its job,” Pinkel said. “That’s our goal every week.”
If the Tigers can contain Manziel and walk away with a win Saturday, Pinkel also will accomplish some personal triumph: It would be his 101st win at Missouri, matching Don Faurot as the school’s all-time winningest coach.
Predictably, Pinkel wasn’t in the mood to discuss that side bar this week.
“I didn’t get into this to break records,” he said. “We can talk about that later, after it happens.
“My main goal has been to make sure that the SEC recognizes us and respects us for who we are, and then to make sure that nationally we are recognized and respected. That’s very important to me.”
A win Saturday virtually guarantees that.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.