‘Those chills don’t don’t leave you’: Last time Mizzou faced Texas A&M on Faurot Field

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Entering the 2013 college football season, the Missouri Tigers wanted to make a statement.

Players and coaches had heard all the chatter about how the program wouldn’t be able to make it in the SEC after finishing 5-7 the year prior, ending a streak of seven consecutive bowl game appearances.

The group of rising seniors took it upon themselves to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. When January rolled around, before the semester even started, they were back on campus and in the weight room. By camp, practices felt as intense as games. Defensive end Markus Golden, now a linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals, says that was the hardest working team he’s been a part of. Running back Henry Josey says it was the most competitive — it was also the goofiest. Wide receiver L’Damian Washington says it was the closest.

“The work ethic, the mentality that we had, the brotherhood that we had, we just kind of had a fear nothing attitude and we was gonna go in and take everything,” Washington recalled. “We were out for anyone that got in our way because we was on a mission.”

Added Josey: “When Saturdays did show up, just buckle your seatbelts for whoever we’re playing, because it was gonna get real pretty quickly.”

By the final game of the regular season on Nov. 30, 2013, the Tigers were 10-1 and ranked No. 5 in the country. They needed a win against No. 19 Texas A&M on senior night to clinch the SEC East in just their second year in the league.

Here’s a look behind the scenes at the last time the Aggies came to Faurot Field.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, center, scrambles as Missouri defensive linemen Michael Sam, left, and Shane Ray defend during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, center, scrambles as Missouri defensive linemen Michael Sam, left, and Shane Ray defend during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

A Johnny Manziel rematch

The Missouri defense had been eagerly awaiting another shot at Johnny Manziel all year.

The Tigers felt like the quarterback had disrespected them in their last matchup, a 59-29 win for the Aggies to end the 2012 season, and it was still a sore spot.

“We felt like he ran it up and tried to win the Heisman [Trophy] on us,” Golden said. “I know he needed that game to probably get the Heisman. … We all just wanted to make sure we came back and kind of paid them back for doing us like that.”

Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel felt like he had been embarrassed as a defensive coordinator in that game. Determined to find a way to slow him down, Steckel spent hours upon hours studying film of Manziel and the Texas A&M offense throughout the summer, until finally, it clicked.

“I can let the cat out of the bag now,” he says nearly eight years later.

They discovered that when Manziel’s feet were parallel, the Aggies were getting set for a run play. If his feet were staggered, you could bet a pass was coming. It can’t be that simple, Steckel remembered thinking at the time. But sure enough, once the season rolled around and they had studied even more film, it was clear it was.

There was also the matter of slowing down Mike Evans. The eventual top-10 NFL selection had recorded a program-record 1,314 yards through the first 11 games of the season leading up to the showdown in Columbia, and Steckel knew if he got going the Tigers were in trouble. So on the Sunday of game week, he went up to senior corner E.J. Gaines with a proposition.

“Hey, you know what, the coaching staff, we’re thinking about putting you on Mike Evans,” Steckel told him. “We’re thinking about as a staff putting you on him, and wherever he goes, you’re going to go.”

“Coach, I’m gonna do it,” Gaines replied confidently.

But Steckel wanted to push him a little bit, to see how much of his competitive side he could bring out. “Oh, I don’t know if you’re up to the challenge, you know he’s really good,” the defensive coordinator said before walking away.

The following day, on Monday, Gaines came into Steckel’s office, at this point determined that he, and only he, would be the one to make Evans a non-factor in the game.

“Coach, are you going to put me on Mike Evans?”

“I don’t know, E.J.,” Steckel told him. “I don’t know if you’re up for the challenge, man.”

Gaines was ready to prove he certainly was up for said challenge. “He, in a fun way, had some explicit words with me,” Steckel recalled with a chuckle. “I kind of walked away smiling.” And by that night, it was decided: Everywhere Evans went, Gaines would follow (Sure enough, the future Super Bowl champion went on to finish the night with a career-low eight yards on four receptions).

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel roams the field before the start of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel roams the field before the start of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

A&M strikes first

Come Saturday, the Tigers found themselves trailing at halftime for the first time all season, down 14-7 to Manziel and the Aggies.

But the locker room was calm, surreal in a way. Josey grabbed a few pieces of candy, as he usually did during the break. The coaches didn’t say much after going over a few adjustments; they knew they didn’t have to given how player-led that team was.

“We’d had such a special season up to that point, I just felt like that team and that group of young men, they were gonna find a way to win,” recalls offensive coordinator Josh Henson, who returns to Columbia as the Aggies’ offensive line coach this weekend. “They were gonna find a way to get it done.”

The defense knew it needed to play more aggressively to put pressure on Manziel going into the second half. The offense knew it needed to step up with better execution and score. And that’s exactly what the Tigers did to open the third quarter, finding the end zone less than three minutes in on a two-yard rush from Marcus Murphy to tie the game at 14.

Mizzou once again marched its way into the red zone on the following offensive drive, going 52 yards on seven plays to set up first-and-goal. Quarterback James Franklin lofted a five-yard pass to Washington, who jumped up to grab the ball over the outstretched arms of a defender for a touchdown. Or was it one? The referees didn’t seem to think so.

Washington immediately protested the call, running towards the sideline while motioning to coach Gary Pinkel to throw a challenge flag — something that only exists in the NFL. “He was pulling it out, like, ‘Coach, I caught that in bounds. I know I caught that in bounds,’” Pinkel recalled with a laugh.

Though it may not have been on account of the imaginary flag, the play went to video review and officials eventually ruled it a touchdown. The Tigers had their first lead of the game, up 21-14 with 6:26 left in the third quarter.

Missouri running back Henry Josey, left, scores on a 57-yard touchdown run during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Missouri running back Henry Josey, left, scores on a 57-yard touchdown run during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Josey’s turning point

Ask anyone from that team about the play that stands out in their mind from that game and you’ll get a unanimous answer: the Henry Josey touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

It was third-and-1 at their own 43, the game tied at 21. Missouri was just trying to pick up a few yards to keep the drive alive, so Henson called one their favorite run plays for Josey, an inside zone to the left.

The senior running back took the handoff from Franklin and noticed a wide open lane — the offensive line, led by a huge block from right tackle Mitch Morse, had pushed the entire Aggies defensive line to the left.

“The rest is just run for your life and hope you get there,” Josey says.

The senior bolted past the grasp of a defender diving at his feet and sprinted 57 yards down the field, leaving the Aggies trailing in the dust on his way to the end zone.

Washington was focused on blocking his man, when suddenly he noticed Josey had broken free and fellow wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was dashing behind him. So he took off too — “Of course I’mma meet Henry at the end zone too, that’s my brother,” Washington says.

The sold-out crowd at Faurot Field erupted as Josey scored the touchdown to put Mizzou up 28-21 with 3:34 left in the game. As the Tigers celebrated, the ESPN cameras pointed to a heated Manziel yelling in frustration on the sidelines.

“Those memories don’t leave you, those chills don’t don’t leave you,” recalls Washington. “Because a lot of people counted us out, a lot of people counted Henry out on coming back.”

Josey entered the 2013 season coming off a major knee injury that many didn’t think he’d recover from. He suffered a torn left patellar tendon and torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments — doctors called it “a one-in-a-million type of injury” — in the 10th contest of his sophomore season, at which point he ranked fifth in the country in rushing yards.

“I was just hungry. I was ready to go,” Josey recalled of his mindset entering his senior season. “I wanted to play the year before that but they held me back on it, and that ultimately just fuels that fire for when you do show back up. Nobody thinks you’re going to be the same. Everybody around me knew I was going to be the same, if not better, especially my teammates.”

Missouri running back Henry Josey (20) is congratulated by teammates after scoring on a 57-yard run during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Missouri running back Henry Josey (20) is congratulated by teammates after scoring on a 57-yard run during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

‘Spy Three Cloud’

Seeing Josey score that touchdown, after everything he had been through, lit a spark in the Mizzou defense.

With 2:51 left on the clock, the Tigers needed a stop on third-and-7 at the Texas A&M 30-yard line to all but ensure a victory. That’s when Steckel called Spy Three Cloud and was met by a few puzzled looks.

“Coach, do you know what you just called?” Steckel remembered some of the other coaches telling him.

“Yeah, I know what I called.”

“You just called Spy Three Cloud.”

“I know,” Steckel replied, meanwhile thinking to himself, Oh my God, I just called the Spy Three Cloud. You knucklehead.

Steckel says the play is essentially a Cover 2 defense, but they would take nose guard Harold Brantley and put him at the defensive tackle position. Instead of rushing, Brantley’s job was to spy on Manziel. And once he saw Manziel’s feet were staggered, the defense knew the Aggies were running a passing play.

As soon as Manziel let off a short pass, the defense already knew it was going to Evans and had started rushing his way. Safety Matt White got to the wide receiver first, but Evans wouldn’t go down. He ran to the left, yet had nowhere to go, quickly swarmed by the Tigers and brought down at the 24-yard line for a loss of six.

“Those risk type plays, what happens is, if they work they’re good calls, if they don’t work they’re not good calls,” Pinkel recalled with a chuckle. “It happened to work and that’s the most important thing. Yeah, it was a great team victory and gosh I’ll never forget that.”

The Tigers got the ball back and ran out the clock after a few plays. As the final seconds ticked down, the Faurot Field crowd went into a frenzy, rushing the field soon after to celebrate with the newly crowned SEC East champions.

“Nothing compared to that game,” Washington says. “Our fans rushed it, getting carried off, getting the Rock M, I mean those are storyline finishes, like that’s stuff that you could put in a book and people wouldn’t believe it.”

Fans celebrate on the field following Missouri’s 28-21 victory over Texas A&M in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Fans celebrate on the field following Missouri’s 28-21 victory over Texas A&M in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
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