Opponent Outlook: Missouri

In the weeks leading up towards the start of fall camp, Devils Digest's Joe Healey will provide an off-season preview of ASU's 2011 opponents. The second article in this series examines the University of Missouri.

Missouri Tigers

Game Date (Kickoff Time/TV): Sept. 9, 2011 (7:30 p.m. PST/ESPN)

Head Coach: Gary Pinkel (21st year/11th at Missouri; 150-86-3 overall/77-49 at Missouri)

Conference: Big XII

2010 Record: 10-3 (6-2 Big XII Conference/T-1st Big XII North)

Honors Candidates: TE Michael Egnew, Sr.; DE Brad Madison, Jr.; WR T.J. Moe, Jr.; K Grant Ressel, Sr.; DE Jacquies Smith, Sr.

Key Departures: OL Tim Barnes, QB Blaine Gabbert, LB Andrew Gachkar, DB Kevin Rutland, DE Aldon Smith

Impact Newcomers: DB Cortland Browning, Fr.; DE Kony Ealy, RS-Fr.; DE Shane Ray, Fr.; DT Sheldon Richardson, Jr.; S Kenronte Walker, Jr.

2011 Schedule

9/3/11 Miami (Ohio)

9/9/11 (Fri.) at Arizona State

9/17/11 Western Illinois^

9/24/11 at Oklahoma

10/1/11 Bye

10/8/11 at Kansas State

10/15/11 Iowa State

10/22/11 Oklahoma State

10/29/11 at Texas A&M

11/5/11 at Baylor

11/12/11 Texas

11/19/11 Texas Tech

11/26/11 Kansas#

^-Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team

#-Game played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

2010 Results (2010 Record/Head-to-Head Score)

Illinois (7-6) (W, 23-13)

McNeese State^ (6-5) (W, 50-6)

San Diego State (9-4) (W, 27-24)

Miami (Ohio) (10-4) (W, 51-13)

Colorado (5-7) (W, 26-0)

at Texas A&M (9-4) (W, 30-9)

#1 Oklahoma (12-2) (W, 36-27)

at #14 Nebraska (10-4) (L, 31-17)

at Texas Tech (8-5) (L, 24-17)

#24 Kansas State (7-6) (W, 38-28)

At Iowa State (5-7) (W, 14-0)

Kansas# (3-9) (W, 35-7)

Iowa* (8-5) (L, 27-24)

^-Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team

#-Game played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

*-Insight Bowl (Tempe, Ariz.)

Team Analysis

Offensively, the Tigers weren't drastically different than the Sun Devils in 2010 as ASU ranked 29th in the nation in total offense (425.67) while Missouri stood 35th (409.62).

It goes without saying that the most substantial loss on the roster from last season is quarterback Blaine Gabbert ended his college career a year early and became a first round selection of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Additionally, his younger brother Tyler, who would have been a redshirt freshman on this year's squad, announced his intention to transfer to another FBS school this spring.

With the Gabbert family defections, the only quarterback candidate is dual-threat sophomore James Franklin, a highly talented but inexperienced athlete.

A former four-star prospect and the No. 11 quarterback recruit among the 2010 class, Franklin saw action in 10 games as a true freshman last season, completing 11-of-14 passes for 106 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while adding 116 yards on 23 carries with two scores.

Franklin's playing background and physical talents are very compatible with zone read plays and other opportunities for his athleticism to shine. However, as can be expected with any second-year collegiate quarterback, his decisions, understanding of progressions and overall field awareness are traits that will be closely monitored in his first year as a starter.

Despite his lack of game experience, Franklin has the tremendous advantage of one of college football's top wide receiver-tight end combinations in T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew, a duo that combined for over 180 receptions and 1,800 yards in 2010.

Moe, who physically and by way of his productivity may remind Sun Devil fans of Chris McGaha, caught fire when he last visited Tempe as he hauled in 15 passes for 152 yards in the Tigers' Insight Bowl loss in Sun Devil Stadium.

In all, the 6-foot, 200-pounder totaled 92 catches for 1,045 yards with six touchdowns, netting him Second-Team All-Big XII honors—and he surely would have nabbed first-team accolades in any other league, but with performers such as Justin Blackmon and Ryan Broyles as conference colleagues Moe was forced to take somewhat of a back seat.

After only posting seven total receptions over his first two seasons at Missouri, Egnew absolutely went nuclear as a junior, leading all FBS tight ends with 90 receptions, with 762 yards and five touchdowns, helping him become a Consensus First-Team All-American, Mackey Award finalist and First-Team All-Big XII member.

The latest in a recent string of outstanding tight ends for the Tigers, Egnew may be public enemy number one for the Sun Devil defense as ASU was victimized last season by top-notch tight ends such as Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks and Oregon's David Paulson. Egnew likely will be targeted early and often within Missouri's offensive game plan against the Devils as he presents as formidable a mismatch as any receiver or tight end in the nation.

In all, the Tigers' passing targets include experienced depth as well as top end talent, as seniors Jerrell Jackson (50 receptions, 656 yards, three touchdowns) and Wes Kemp (39-420-3) figure to join Moe in the starting lineup at wide receiver. Senior Brandon Gerau (7-120), junior Gahn McGaffie (6-40) and sophomore L'Damian Washington (5-35) will add depth at wide receiver after contributing in similar roles last year.

In total, every single player to record a catch – totaling 312 receptions in 2010—returns to the Missouri roster this season, giving Franklin as warm of a welcoming party a first-year starting quarterback could wish for.

After spring drills, junior Kendial Lawrence (73 carries, 422 yards, four touchdowns) and senior De'Vion Moore (99-517-8) were listed as potential starters at running back, with sophomore Henry Josey (76-437-5) as the third option. The trio shared snaps last season with pleasant results as each of the three averaged no fewer than 5.2 yards-per-carry.

Though Missouri's offense involves multiple wide receivers and tight ends in the passing game, the running backs made very little impact as passing targets, as the three aforementioned backs combined for only 12 receptions in 2010.

Up front, the Tigers return four offensive line starters to what is a greatly experienced and highly talented unit. Senior left tackle Elvis Fisher, senior right guard Austin Wuebbels and senior right tackle Dan Hoch return to the first-string positions they held in 2010, while junior Travis Ruth, the starter at left guard last season, moves to center to replace departed First-Team All-Big XII member Tim Barnes and senior Jayson Palmgren takes Ruth's place at left guard.

In addition to Barnes' accolades last season, Fisher, Hoch and Wuebbels all earned Honorable Mention All-Big XII honors.

All things considered, Missouri's offense—especially through the air—should remain highly potent despite the new quarterback.

When the Tigers have the ball, ASU's secondary will be repeatedly tested –as will the discipline of the defensive ends –making the ability for the Sun Devils' linemen to pressure Franklin and not be baited by fakes integral components to ASU's success.

The obvious main objective for the Sun Devils will be to attempt to rattle Franklin as early and as frequently as possible; if the front seven can frustrate the sophomore, he may be rushed into poor choices. Neither of Missouri's elite receiving targets stretches the field to a distinct degree, but can slowly stick a dagger in the Devils' defense if allowed to, so Franklin may not need massive windows to work with—further enforcing the need for the entire Sun Devil defense to react quickly and soundly on every snap.

If the Tigers' excellent offensive line can buy time for Franklin to find Moe, Egnew and company and assert their aerial attack in the early stages of the game, the Sun Devils may face a quick and substantial disadvantage.

Defensively, Missouri faces much more turnover from 2010 to 2011 then on offense as six of the top nine tacklers depart from last year's roster, including first-round NFL Draft selection Aldon Smith.

The top returning defender for the Tigers is senior weak side linebacker Zaviar Gooden, an Honorable Mention All-Big XII selection last year after totaling a team-high 85 tackles. Senior strong safety Kenji Jackson ranks second on the team among returning tackles after posting 66 total stops last year.

Senior middle linebacker Will Ebner—an Honorable Mention All-Big XII selection in 2009—collected 47 tackles to rank third among returning defenders despite suffering nagging injuries which plagued him during the season and caused him to miss three games.

Despite the Smith's departure after his redshirt sophomore season, Missouri expects to be more than stable at defensive end after leading the Big XII and ranking ninth in the nation with 37.0 sacks last year.

Junior Brad Madison, a Second-Team All-Big XII honoree last year that led the Tigers in sacks (7.5) and tackles-for-loss (11.0) despite only starting two games, moves into the first team in place of Smith, where he will join returning starter Jacquies Smith, also a Second-Team All-Big XII member, who posted 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles-for-loss as a junior in 2010.

As if Madison and Smith didn't form a formidable enough pair, redshirt freshman Kony Ealy and true freshman Shane Ray, both four-star prospects as high school recruits, will add high-ceiling depth at defensive end.

Senior defensive tackles Terrell Resonno (35 tackles, 4.0 tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks), an Honorable Mention All-Big XII selection last year, and Dominique Hamilton (20-2.0-1.5) also return to the starting lineup, while sophomore strong side linebacker Andrew Brown (42-0.5-0.5) is slated on the first team after seeing reserve snaps last year.

Five-star Sheldon Richardson, who initially signed with Missouri in 2009 before spending two years at the junior college level, will arrive in the fall and is expected to compete for playing time at tackle.

Missouri's secondary will be largely redone this year, with Jackson as the sole returning starter. Sophomore Tavon Bolden (14 tackles) likely will start at free safety, while sophomore E.J. Gaines (26 tackles) and junior Kip Edwards (36 tackles, one interception) were positioned as the top cornerbacks after spring drills.

If ASU's offensive line can hold tight against Missouri's menacing defensive front, the matchup of Sun Devil receivers versus Tiger defensive backs could result in favor of ASU. The key, however, is to ensure that in the game's early stages ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler is more synchronized with his receivers than he was in the first half at Arizona last season, a game that has similar emotional value to the Devils' meeting with Mizzou.

On special teams, Honorable Mention All-Big XII member Grant Ressel returns at placekicker, while Trey Barrow looks to earn the punting job. Tailback Marcus Murphy returns as the top returns specialist after averaging 19.8 yards on 24 kickoff returns last season.

Expectations

It is safe to say that the year's realistic expectations for ASU will surface before the college football season is a full week old.

The magnitude of Missouri's trip to Tempe rivals any that Sun Devil Stadium has seen in several years, and the stage of national television adds to the immeasurable importance of this contest to the short and long-term prosperity of ASU football.

The importance of this meeting cannot be underestimated; though some fans or critics seem to believe Missouri will suffer a marked drop-off because of a quarterback replacement and a few changes on defense, this Tiger team is still very highly qualified and should be among the most fierce opponents ASU faces in 2011. Missouri isn't drastically dissimilar from ASU; both teams replace the primary starting quarterback from 2010, have a highly-capable passing offense and return several key figures on defense.

If ASU, likely clad in all black for the first time, is able to rise to the occasion and defeat the Tigers in front of a nationwide audience, the Devils—at least for that moment—will return to a measure of college football prominence and earn significant momentum to continue what is expected to be a potential division championship run.

However, the concern certainly exists that the Sun Devils may do as they done recently versus prominent opponents such as Georgia, Oregon, Stanford, USC and Wisconsin—perform in a highly competitive fashion but, due to their own undoing, fall short of a noteworthy victory.

The table is set for ASU better than it has perhaps since USC played in Tempe in 2007 in terms of a high-profile opponent and tremendously advantageous television coverage.

Essentially this game marks the opportunity to get over the "hump"; for all the losses recently that in many cases have come at the hands of ASU's self-sabotage, Missouri presents a chance to wipe the slate clean.

If ASU truly is ready for a larger spotlight— if it truly is time — it will have to be shown week two against Missouri.


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