Missouri Preview

Very few games in recent years have been as widely anticipated as this week's contest against Missouri. The wait for a nationally televised Friday night game debuting ASU's black uniforms has sent the Sun Devil nation into a frenzy. What can we really expect from this Big-12 squad? Devils Digest's Joe Healey provides us a look at the Tigers' football team.

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; 151-86-3 overall/78-49 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

2011 Schedule

9/3/11 Miami (Ohio) (W, 17-6)

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.)

Offense

With alumni such as Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and Brad Smith playing in the NFL, the standard at quarterback for Missouri is set notably high, so expectations for first-year starter James Franklin can't help but be lofty.

Of the three previously mentioned predecessors, Franklin more strongly resembles Smith than Daniel or Gabbert, as his natural inclination is to use his abilities as a running threat more than a passer. This preference has been evidenced by his 116 rushing yards to 106 passing yards as a true freshman last year and his team-high 72 rushing yards last week against Miami (Ohio).

In his first career start last week, Franklin had memorable moments on the ground but, as he admitted, his passing performance was entirely subpar as he only threw for 129 yards on 17-of-19 passing, with both a touchdown and an interception.

Heading into the matchup with Arizona State, Franklin's ability to scramble and break through the line as a tough runner may be neutralized by the talent of the Sun Devils' front seven, specifically ASU's number seven, linebacker Vontaze Burfict. For the Tigers to find greater offensive continuity than was showed last week, Franklin will need to exhibit greater offensive equity, which could be a daunting task against the Devil defense.

Missouri's running game is as much of a committee as it gets; in 2010, three backs had between 422 and 517 yards while last week, one back had nine carries and two had six carries, combining for 76 total yards. Of the trio, Kendial Lawrence registered the most carries last week but will miss this week's game due to injury, leaving Henry Josey and De'Vion Moore as the top options. Last season, Moore led the Tigers with 517 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and Josey added 437 yards and five scores.

The strength of the Missouri offense, as many are aware, lies in its sensational crop of wide receivers and tight ends, led by All-America candidates T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew.

Moe, the provider of a spectacular Insight Bowl performance in Tempe last postseason, is clearly the Tigers' top threat. In 2010, he caught 92 passes for 1,045 and began the 2011 season by hauling in team-bests of six receptions for 56 yards.

Egnew, a legitimate candidate for the John Mackey Award as one of the nation's premier tight ends, had a quiet season debut with only 12 yards on two receptions but was college football's most productive tight end in 2010 by totaling 90 receptions for 762 yards.

Though the numbers for Moe and Egnew were below expectations in week one, make no mistake about the fact that they will undoubtedly be featured early and often against the Sun Devils.

With Jerrell Jackson, Missouri's third-leading receiver in 2010, sidelined due to injury, players such as Wes Kemp and Marcus Lucas likely will take on a greater role. Kemp was second on the team last week behind Moe with three catches for 24 yards, while Lucas caught the game's only touchdown pass, a 10-yarder from Franklin.

In the late stages of preseason preparation, Missouri lost all-conference left tackle Elvis Fisher to injury and recently center Travis Ruth was added to the list of unavailable players. With those two starters out of duty, the first-string line consists of left tackle Justin Britt, left guard Jack Meiners, center Jayson Palmgren, right guard Austin Wuebbels and right tackle Dan Hoch. Neither player on the left side of the line had started at Missouri prior to the season opener, but Palmgren, Wuebbels and Hoch are standout veteran starters for the Tigers.

Missouri Offense in a Nutshell

In all, the Tigers can succeed offensively if Franklin has time to think and makes wise decisions; if he relies on his feet too frequently and/or if ASU is able to harass him in the pocket, the first-year starter may suffer. Though down two starters, the offensive line has the ability to buy Franklin time but the inexperience at left tackle and left guard can't help but specifically intrigue ASU's Junior Onyeali.

Defense

When the Tiger defense is on the field, the main objective is to get to the quarterback by any means necessary.

Defensive end Brad Madison (32 tackles, 7.5 sacks in 2010) leads the attack but is far from a one-trick pony for the team, as linemen Dominique Hamilton (20 tackles in 2010) and Terrell Resonno (35 tackles, four tackles-for-loss in 2010) follow suit as well. Jacquies Smith (35 tackles, 5.5 sacks in 2010), the usual starter opposite Madison, as a deadly threat to quarterbacks as well but will be unavailable against the Sun Devils due to injury.

In addition to an already talented defensive line, five-star junior college transfer Sheldon Richardson joined the team during fall camp and has the arsenal to explode as a breakout defender.

At linebacker, Zaviar Gooden (85 tackles in 2010) stands as one of the team's best overall players, making this game an exhibition of two of college football's top players at the position with Gooden and ASU's Vontaze Burfict on display.

With starter Will Ebner (47 tackles in 2010) out of the lineup, Andrew Wilson—Missouri's leading tackler last week with 10 total stops—mans the middle with Luke Lambert (17 tackles in 2010) on the strong side. The linebacker depth features a greatly unseasoned bunch, as each member of the list of reserves including Tony Randolph, Darvin Ruise and Donovan Bonner has yet to record a collegiate tackle.

The Tiger secondary welcome Kip Edwards (36 tackles in 2010) back to the lineup after missing last week's game, and paired with E.J. Gaines (26 tackles in 2010), who notched an interception against Miami (Ohio), Missouri boasts a strong pair of corners to confront ASU's talented unit of wide receivers.

Strong safety Kenji Jackson is Missouri's second-leading returning tackler (66) from last year and must be accounted for against both the run and the pass, while free safety Matt White is in his first season as a starter after collecting 18 tackles in a reserve role last year.

Missouri Defense in a Nutshell

The Tigers collectively have the ability to give the Sun Devils Hell in the pass rush, so the onus of responsibility is on ASU's offensive line to keep Brock Osweiler untouched as he was last week. Gooden gives Missouri an athletic presence at outside linebacker and Jackson is a versatile safety, but the clear key in this exchange is to prevent Brock Osweiler from frequently using his feet or being on his back. Special Teams

Missouri boasts an excellent kicking game in kicker Grant Ressel and punter Trey Barrow. Last week, Ressel converted his only field goal try, a 38-yarder, as well as both extra points he attempted. Barrow was active in the low-scoring affair, punting seven times with a 44.7-yard average. Of the seven punts, three landed inside the 20-yard line, two landed as touchbacks and Barrow had a long punt of 57 yards.

T.J. Moe had two punt returns of 18 and 12 yards, while the two kickoffs Missouri returned totaled only 25 yards last week. Though Missouri only kicked off twice, the Tigers allowed 48 yards—certainly an area of strength for the Sun Devil special teams.

Conclusion

Between a lackluster performance against Miami (Ohio) and multiple injury setbacks over the past week, the ball has certainly bounced into the Sun Devils' court.

The million-dollar question in this game is: How will ASU handle the expectations? In recent years, the Sun Devils have been clearly capable of competing with the nation's best, but unable to defeat the nation's best.

Though Missouri is a far cry from '96 Nebraska, this game carries a palpable magnitude that few games since that historic September battle have brought to Sun Devil Stadium. If advancement is going to happen in Sun Devil football, the future begins Friday. There is little doubt that a win is there for the taking, if ASU can play with the level of focus necessary to defeat a nationally-prominent program.

Keys to an ASU Victory

Frustrate Missouri QB James Franklin

Unlike recent Missouri quarterbacks such as Blaine Gabbert and Chase Daniel, Franklin's instinctive tendency is to run, not pass. With his happy feet back in the pocket for the Tigers, it is crucial that the Devils make physical contact with him early and often—preferably in the form of linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

If Burfict and company can effectively harass Franklin, not only will his rushing efforts be impacted, but his decisions as a passer may be damaged as well.

Keep the Pass Rush Away From ASU QB Brock Osweiler

Despite the losses that Missouri has suffered in its front seven, there are still multiple pass rush threats along the line and throughout the linebackers.

The Sun Devil offensive line stood firm against UC-Davis and did not allow a sack, though naturally the level of competition escalates substantially when comparing the Tigers to the Aggies.

If Osweiler is able to have enough time to make the necessary reads and progressions in the pass game, the likelihood of him causing mistakes diminishes significantly.

Be Consistent in Coverage of Missouri WR T.J. Moe and TE Michael Egnew

A new quarterback's best friend is an experienced, reliable receiving target—and Missouri has two of the nation's best in Moe and Egnew. Neither player is a major downfield threat, but both are easily capable of nickel-and-diming the Sun Devil defense if enough of a cushion is allowed.

ASU's pass coverage has been far from a defensive highlight as of late, so if Moe and Egnew are able to make uninterrupted receptions on a consistent basis, the chains figure to frequently move in favor of the Tigers.

Focus! Focus! Focus!

The hype, emotion and magnitude of this game are unlike those of any college game that any player on the roster has ever faced. The expectations are incredible, the environment should be amazing and the exposure is incomparable. All these factors can push a team from being "good" to being "great", or can cause a team to lose concentration and simply operate off of adrenaline.

What aided ASU's efficiency in the opener was the discipline showed on offense and defense; Osweiler was accurate, the offensive line protected and the team as a whole was very controlled in terms of penalties. To create success—especially early in the game—the Sun Devils will have to subside all the hysteria, block out the "Black Out" and play four quarters of controlled football.

‘It's Time' to ‘Show Me'

It's only fitting that mottos associated with the two teams in this exchange perfectly apply to the Sun Devils. For several years, ASU has teased with the ability to take down a nationally prominent team, but has had little conclusive success. The "Fool me once…fool me twice" saying appropriately applies to this contest; in essence, the Devils need to go from fool me to show me.

Injury Report and Lineup Notes

Missouri Injury List: LB Will Ebner, WR Jerrell Jackson, RB Kendial Lawrence, WR Gahn McGaffie, OL Travis Ruth, DE Jacquies Smith, TE Eric Waters.

ASU Injury List: OL Sil Ajawara, S Ezekiel Bishop, CB Omar Bolden, WR J.J. Holliday, WR Randy Knust, RB Deantre Lewis, LB Brandon Magee, OL Aderious Simmons, WR T.J. Simpson, CB Devan Spann, DL Joita Te'i.

Oliver Aaron saw action with the first team this week in place of Colin Parker at outside linebacker and is scheduled to start.

Corey Adams saw first-team reps at defensive tackle in practice when Will Sutton was briefly limited due to a minor injury.

• Safeties Kevin Ayers and Shane McCullen will compete to replace injured backup Ezekiel Bishop.

• Quarterbacks Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly saw similar practice time as the backup to Brock Osweiler in practice this week.

• Evan Finkenberg and Dan Knapp are the likely starting tackles with Aderious Simmons sidelined.

Osahon Irabor suffered a wrist injury Wednesday at practice but is not expected to miss game action.

Mo Latu may make his collegiate debut as a backup defensive tackle.

• Aderious Simmons did not practice during the week after a foot injury suffered against UC-Davis and isn't expected to be available Friday.

• Adam Tello saw action this week at backup right guard after missing the UC-Davis game due to injury. It is uncertain whether he will play against Missouri.


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