After floundering for weeks, Texas A&M is returning home with some confidence following a win over a highly ranked opponent.
The Aggies, No. 24 in the College Football Playoff rankings, are hoping to turn that upset into a strong finish, and they’ll try to put a dent in Missouri’s hopes for a second straight SEC East title Saturday night.
Texas A&M opened this season with a blowout win over South Carolina and was 5-0 before three decisive losses to ranked teams, capped by a 59-0 drubbing at then-No. 7 Alabama on Oct. 18. The Aggies didn’t produce an inspiring end to that skid, edging Louisiana-Monroe 21-16 on Nov. 1 in freshman quarterback Kyle Allen’s first collegiate start.
Allen followed with four touchdowns in the first half at then-No. 3 Auburn this past Saturday, and Texas A&M forced three fumbles in a 41-38 victory. Alonzo Williams recovered the last of those turnovers, a botched snap with 54 seconds left at the Aggies’ 28-yard line.
Texas A&M (7-3, 3-3) gets its final two regular-season games at home and faces No. 20 LSU in the finale Nov. 27.
"We’ve been through some tough times and no one will forget that," wide receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "We can change the outcome of this season by getting these last three games."
First, the Aggies will face a former Big 12 opponent for the last time until 2021. Texas A&M and Missouri were given yearly matchups when they joined the SEC before the 2012 season, but they will rotate interdivision opponents beginning next season.
Missouri earned its first trip to the SEC title game with a 28-21 home win over Texas A&M on Nov. 30 and has a slim lead over Georgia in the East this year following three consecutive wins. The Tigers (7-2, 4-1) will likely need at least two wins in their final three games to reach Atlanta or win out if Georgia beats Auburn on Saturday because the Bulldogs beat Missouri 34-0 on Oct. 11.
With one of the least prolific offenses in the SEC, Missouri has leaned on its defense the last two victories. The Tigers have held their last three opponents to 14 points or fewer and under 285 yards.
Before getting a bye week, they held Kentucky to three points in the first 56 1/2 minutes of a 20-10 victory. Shane Ray had a pair of sacks, giving him a Missouri single-season record with 12.
"He’s one of the great competitors I’ve ever been around. I’d put him in my top five since I’ve been coaching," coach Gary Pinkel said.
Ray’s 12 sacks are also tops in the SEC, just ahead of Texas A&M freshman Myles Garrett’s 11. The Aggies are tied for first in the conference with 32 sacks, one ahead of Missouri.
That could make things difficult on Allen and Tigers sophomore Maty Mauk, who topped 150 passing yards for the first time in SEC play in the win over Kentucky. Mauk threw for 164, rushed for a season-high 75 and connected on two TD passes to Bud Sasser for the second straight contest.
Mauk had four interceptions in the loss to Georgia and completed 6 of 18 passes for 20 yards in a 42-13 victory at Florida on Oct. 18. The Tigers had two Marcus Murphy touchdown returns and two defensive scores in that win.
Mauk made a brief appearance in Missouri’s sixth win in the last eight matchups against A&M. The Aggies blew out the Tigers 59-29 on Nov. 24, 2012, to avoid a third straight home loss in the series.
Missouri, though, will likely have a short-handed secondary. Cornerback Aarion Penton has been suspended indefinitely after being cited for marijuana possession, and safety Braylon Webb will have to sit out at least the first half after being called for a targeting penalty against Kentucky.