Missouri Preview

Every week in this young 2012 season has presented Arizona State with a stiffer test than the week before and Saturday in Columbia, Mo. will be no different. The Sun Devils take to the road for the first time under Head Coach Todd Graham to face a Tigers team who isn't only out to avenge their overtime loss in Tempe last year but also one reeling from a bitter loss at home to Georgia last week.

Devils Digest's Joe Healey takes a close and comprehensive look at ASU's next opponent.

Head Coach

Gary Pinkel (12th year at Missouri, 86-55 record/22nd year overall, 159-92-3 record)

Record

1-1 (Defeated Southeast Louisiana, 62-10, lost to Georgia, 41-20)

Last Meeting with ASU

In one of the most exhilarating games to be played at Sun Devil Stadium in several years, ASU downed Missouri, 37-30, in overtime in front of over 70,000 fans at the team's first "Blackout".

The game figured to be a proving ground for the Sun Devil squad that began the 2011 season with widespread expectations to represent the Pac-12 South in the inaugural Pac-12 Conference championship game.

ASU, coming off a 6-6 record in 2010 and losing finishes the previous two years, hosted the Tigers before a national audience on ESPN that Friday night and the energy shown from start to finish undoubtedly kept viewers entertained.

The Sun Devils struck first with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Brock Osweiler to Jamal Miles near the midway point of the first quarter, with the Tigers responding a few minutes later with a 24-yard field goal by Grant Ressel.

ASU added to their lead with a 47-yard field goal by Alex Garoutte early in the second quarter and Missouri answered yet again with a two-yard James Franklin scoring run to knot the game at 10 with less than eight minutes remaining until halftime.

However, on the next play from scrimmage Osweiler launched a 60-yard bomb to receiver Aaron Pflugrad for six but the point after was blocked, giving ASU a 16-10 edge at the half.

The Tigers took The Opening possession of the second half and chipped in a 47-yard field goal by Ressel, and after forcing a punt by the Sun Devils, Missouri again added a three-pointer by Ressel, this time from 19 yards, bringing the game to a tie at 16-16.

The next possession for the Sun Devils was capped off by one of the most exciting plays of the 2011 season, as from the 35-yard line Osweiler threw back to Jamal Miles who then connected with Pflugrad for a razzle dazzle touchdown and a 23-16 ASU lead.

ASU forced a three-and-out the next Tiger possession, but Miles set the Devils up with great field position after his 27-yard punt return to the Sun Devil 40-yard line.

The Sun Devil possession spilled into the fourth quarter, culminating with a 12-yard touchdown scramble by Osweiler to give ASU what seemed to be a commanding 30-16 lead.

ASU's momentum appeared to continue to increase when the Tigers were forced to punt, but a fumbled return by Miles was recovered by Missouri and positioned the Tigers at ASU's 32-yard line. Four plays later, Franklin completed a 25-yard strike to L'Damian Washington to bring Missouri within a touchdown at 30-23.

On ASU's ensuing possession, Sun Devil punter Josh Hubner only was able to get off a 28-yard punt on 4th & 1, giving Missouri the ball at their own 42-yard line. The Tigers took 5:36 off the clock and ultimately tied the game at 30 after Franklin's three-yard touchdown lob to tight end Michael Egnew.

With 2:43 remaining, the Sun Devils suffered a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but Hubner was able to pin the Tigers on their own eight-yard line with 1:16 to go.

Missouri wasted no time in advancing down the field, as gains of 39, 8 and 10 yards on their first three plays placed the ball at ASU's 35-yard line. Franklin rushed another five yards to the Sun Devil 30, and after two incompletion Missouri set up for a 48-yard field goal by the usually reliable Grant Ressel.

With the Sun Devil crowd frantic, Ressel pushed the potential game-winner wide left setting the teams up for an overtime finish.

Re-energized and revitalized, ASU set up for second and goal at the Missouri 11-yard line, and after receiving a swing pass from Osweiler, Miles knifed his way through the Tiger defense to put ASU up 37-30.

When Missouri took over at ASU's 25-yard line, Franklin rushed for no gain on first and second down before a five-yard completion on third down. On 4th & 5 from the Sun Devil 20 and ASU's crowd as noisy and distracting as it has been in several years, Franklin threw the fourth down pass far beyond intended receiver T.J. Moe, giving the Sun Devils a thrilling 37-30 win over Missouri.

Brock Osweiler completed 24-of-32 passes with for 353 yards with three passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and zero turnovers. Aaron Pflugrad caught eight passes for 180 yards with two touchdowns, while Jamal Miles added two scores as part of his six receptions for 50 yards. Cameron Marshall paced ASU on the ground with 61 yards on 22 carries.

James Franklin submitted an astounding performance to counter Osweiler's excellent effort, completing 26-of-42 passes for 319 yards as well as 84 net rushing yards, with two passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and zero turnovers. Henry Josey tallied 94 rushing yards on only nine carries and Marcus Lucas totaled 87 receiving yards on four receptions.

Defensively, ASU linebacker Colin Parker had a game-high 11 tackles, with linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive lineman Toa Tuitea both registering sacks. Linebacker Zaviar Gooden led the Tigers with nine tackles including a sack.

Offense Preview

The Tiger offense begins with ultra-talented dual threat James Franklin, in his second season as a full-time starter. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound junior is already the second-most efficient passer in Missouri football history and last year flirted with a 1,000-yard rushing season. Equally dangerous on the ground and through the air, Franklin assaulted ASU in last year's exchange, and is expected to be even more threatening now that he's playing at home with a full season as a starter under his belt.

In place of 2011 Doak Walker Award semifinalist Henry Josey, senior Kendial Lawrence (5-9, 195) and sophomore Marcus Murphy (5-9 185) figure to split action in the backfield. Lawrence boasts a stellar 9.0-yard average on 18 carries with 162 net rushing yards and two scores, while Murphy has 75 yards on 11 carries for a 6.8-yard average.

True freshman Russell Hansbrough, a verbal commit to ASU prior to the firing of Dennis Erickson, has seen game action at running back and on special teams for the Tigers.

At wide receiver, the Tigers are experienced and deep, with a variety of talents throughout the position group.

T.J. Moe (6-0, 200) returns for his senior season ranking in the school's all-time top-10 list in both receptions and receiving yards, while Marcus Lucas (6-5, 215) and L'Damian Washington (6-4, 195) add excellent size and ability in the pass game.

Lucas and Moe are tied for the team lead with nine catches, with Lucas pacing the squad with 118 total receiving yards.

Senior Gahn McGaffie (5-10, 190) and sophomore Bud Sasser (6-2, 215) can also be expected to see ample action at wide receiver.

Different from recent years that included standouts such as Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman and Michael Egnew, this year's Tiger squad doesn't feature a game-breaking component at tight end, with junior Eric Waters (6-4, 235) only catching two passes for nine yards thus far.

An intriguing option is true freshman Dorial Green-Beckham (6-6, 220) who came to Columbia with fantastic credentials as Scout.com's top overall high school prospect of the 2012. Green-Beckham has been in the early rotation, though his production so far has been moderate with four catches for 37 yards. Green-Beckham is currently listed as the second "Y" receiver behind Waters, but has the size and versatility to impact the game from multiple spots once he acclimates to the college level of play.

Undoubtedly the biggest question mark for Missouri this week is the collective health status of its offensive line. Key players such as Elvis Fisher, Travis Ruth, Taylor Chappell and perhaps Jack Meiners won't be a part of Saturday's lineup, forcing Pinkel and staff to shuffle the deck considerably up front.

Junior Justin Britt (6-6, 315) provides some stability at left tackle, as he started all year at the position in 2011. Sophomore Mitch Morse (6-5, 300) started the first two games of the season at center but may move to right tackle due to injuries suffered by his teammates.

The interior of the Tiger line could create an area of opportunity for the Sun Devils, as true freshman left guard Evan Boehm (6-3, 310), redshirt freshman center Brad McNulty (6-4, 295) and junior right guard Max Copeland (6-3, 290), a former walk-on, combine for four career starts, with McNulty schedule to make his first career start Saturday.

Missouri Offense in a Nutshell

Through the air and on the ground, Franklin is the clear general and his play will determine Missouri's fate. Playing in a comfortable environment and with experienced skill players, if the Tiger offensive line can hold its ground, Missouri has the pieces it needs to succeed with the ball.

The Tigers haven't fed the key running backs many carries thus far, putting ample responsibility on the throwing arm and feet of Franklin—which could be a good or bad thing for the Sun Devils, depending on how ASU game plans for him.

The Sun Devils will likely be looking to capitalize on a makeshift offensive line to make life difficult for Franklin, and if ASU can contain and disturb him with noticeable frequency the visiting team can strike a sure advantage.

Defense Preview

The quality of the Tiger defense starts up front, most notably with senior end Brad Madison (6-4, 265). Opposite Madison, junior Michael Sam (6-3, 26) figures to start with sophomore nose guard Matt Hoch (6-5, 300), joined by junior tackle Sheldon Richardson (6-4, 295), who certainly will be eager to see whether the Devils will play old or young man football when they visit Columbia.

Redshirt freshman Shane Ray (6-3, 240) and sophomore Kony Ealy (6-5, 265), both former four-star recruits, are listed as the top reserves at defensive end. Senior Jimmy Burge (6-2, 295) and sophomore Lucas Vincent (6-2, 295) are positioned behind Hoch and Richardson, respectively.

As a unit, Missouri's defensive line has posted all six of the team's sacks through two games, with Madison notching three of them.

At linebacker, leading tackler Zaviar Gooden is expected to be out of action from his usual weak side linebacker position. In his absence, senior standout middle linebacker Will Ebner (6-0, 230) will be flanked by junior Donovan Bonner (6-1, 235) on the weak side and junior Andrew Wilson (6-3, 235) on the strong side. Ebner is the team's second-leading tackler behind Gooden with 11 total stops, while Wilson has totaled nine tackles and Bonner has notched seven stops, two forced fumbles and an interception.

The secondary figures to feature the tenured cornerback duo of senior Kip Edwards (6-1, 200) and junior E.J. Gaines (5-10, 195) with senior Kenronte Walker (6-0, 210) at strong safety and sophomore Braylon Webb (6-0, 210) at free safety.

Edwards leads all Tiger defensive backs with nine tackles through two games, with Walker having posted eight stops.

As a sophomore in 2011, Gaines earned Second-Team All-Big XII honors, while Webb was an Honorable Mention selection for the conference's Defensive Freshman of the Year.

Junior Randy Ponder (5-10, 195) and sophomore Xavier Smith (5-11, 185) complete the two-deep at cornerback, with junior Matt White (6-0, 195) and redshirt freshman Ian Simon (5-11, 190) listed as the second-team members at free and strong safety, respectively.

Missouri Defense in a Nutshell

The Tigers likely will use Madison, Richardson and company along the defensive line to attack Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly, making his collegiate road debut. Kelly has yet to stumble in any way, shape or form, so Missouri would love nothing more than to give him his first taste of true trauma in a hostile playing environment.

Along with the big bodies up front, veterans such as Ebner, Edwards and Gaines can be counted on to be playmakers for the Tigers.

If ASU can provide Kelly time in the pocket to scan through his progressions—and allow the same to backup Michael Eubank, as well as the ability to move the ball on the ground—ASU's offense can build momentum.

Though Kelly has looked entirely unshaken and generally devoid of flaw through two games, his first taste of road action potentially could be a wake-up call that rattles his concentration and confidence.

For ASU to succeed with the ball, Kelly must remain composed and cannot often be under duress from the front seven of Missouri.

Special Teams Preview

Senior Trey Barrow, a Second-Team All-Big XII member in 2011, gives Missouri little worry at punter, but the Tigers ushered in a new kicker to start the year in redshirt freshman Andrew Baggett. Baggett attempted three field goals against Georgia, connecting from 25 and 38-yards but missing from 43.

Running back Marcus Murphy had an all-world performance in the opener against Southeast Louisiana, taking two punts back for touchdowns. On the year, Murphy carries a 22.9-yard average on eight returns.

On kickoff returns, wide receivers T.J. Moe and Gahn McGaffie have each returned a pair. Freshman running back Russell Hansbrough has provided the kick return highlight of the year thus far, with a 56-yard return on his only attempt thus far.

Conclusion

In some ways, the magnitude of this game outweighs the actual matchups. Missouri wants nothing more than to validate itself after a disappointing loss to open SEC play, while Todd Graham can propel his stature with the Sun Devil faithful into the stratosphere by starting the season 3-0 with a road win of this caliber.

On the field, of course, the matchup yielded a Sun Devil victory in 2011. However, some of the main factors that assisted that win are absent from this year's ASU lineup and the atmosphere at Sun Devil Stadium's "Blackout" undoubtedly shook the Tigers.

On an objective scale, there are matchups that favor the Devils but also several situations that side with Missouri. Experience certainly favors Missouri, but through two games the Sun Devils have shown no ill-effects of their cumulative lack of game-tested veterans. With no precedent in place in terms of how Graham's Sun Devils compose themselves on the road, it is challenging to predict whether we'll see the level of focus that has been prominently displayed through the first two weeks of the season or the rattled inconsistency that has been common among recent Sun Devil squads away from Tempe.

If ASU can remain composed from start to finish, the Sun Devils have all the tools to exit with a thrilling victory. Conversely, if the Devils stumble and succumb to frustration and disorganization, the home team can easily capitalize and create a conclusive advantage.

The importance of this game truly cannot be overstated as ASU has performed pathetically on the road in recent years and if Graham can stick a pitchfork in that recent trend, the Devils have the potential to catch some major momentum over the next few weeks.

Keys to a Sun Devil Victory

Shake the Road Woes

ASU's horrific road play of late is well documented and, which comes as no coincidence, has been major factor in the teams subpar play the past four seasons.

Outside of Pac-12 action, ASU has lost its last three road games in non-conference action, dropping contests at Illinois, Wisconsin and Georgia the past three years—each in agonizing fashion.

Over the past 10 years the Sun Devils have performed poorly against their upper-tier non-conference opponents on the road, with wins against San Diego State, North Carolina, Northwestern and Colorado and losses at Nebraska, Iowa, Georgia, Wisconsin and Illinois since the start of the 2002 season.

In general on the road, ASU is 5-16 over the past four years, with a 5-13 slate in Pac-12 play. Not-so-ironically, the last time the Sun Devils had a winning record away from Tempe was the team's most recent winning season, as ASU had a 3-1 road record during its 10-win 2007 season.

ASU's road woes have reached somewhat of an epidemic level as that 2007 effort is the Sun Devils' only winning road record since Bruce Snyder's career ended in 2000—which makes perfect sense as that 2007 season yielded ASU's highest winning total in that span. ASU has also lost 11 of its past 14 road games dating back to the 2009 season with wins only at Utah in 2011 and at Arizona and Washington in 2010.

This all adds up to an incredible opportunity for Todd Graham to create yet another outstanding instant impact for the Sun Devils. If Graham is able to take down the Tigers in Columbia, the win can easily be classified as one of the most impressive outcomes on the road in several, several years for the Sun Devils. Simply to be able to march into SEC territory against a highly consistent team and capture a victory for the Sun Devils would already enable Graham to lay claim to an accomplishment the level of which his predecessor at ASU could not.

Pursue Perfection

As impressive as the large win margins through the first two weeks, to many critics and fans the most newsworthy change under Todd Graham is the Sun Devils' improved discipline and focus. Recently the most frequent offender in the nation in terms of penalties, ASU now ranks in the top-10 in college football for least infractions through games one and two. Also, the Sun Devil quarterbacks have been highly efficient, with starter Taylor Kelly ranking seventh in the FBS in quarterback efficiency.

On the road in a hostile environment, ASU can ill-afford to provide any handouts to the home team, so maintaining this two-game trend is a must.

The Sun Devils will undoubtedly face a raucous Columbia crowd, and the hype of playing on SEC turf will have to translate to concentration to enable ASU to be efficient against the Tigers.

In addition to limiting penalties and showcasing smart decisions at quarterback, the Sun Devil rushers—especially senior Cameron Marshall—will have to practice elite ball security after ASU coughed up two fumbles in the Illinois red zone a week ago.

Attack with Focus

Against Illinois, Will Sutton and Carl Bradford had career games, while Chris Young currently ranks in the nation's top-10 in tackles-for-loss. Additionally, Brandon Magee is cleared to return to action, Mike Pennel is back from a one-game suspension and Anthony Jones has impressed as of late.

ASU has a great deal of talent along the defensive line and at linebacker, giving the Devils a number of qualified defenders to contend with dual-threat quarterback James Franklin of Missouri. However, Franklin is a highly-skilled, versatile performer and can take advantage of even slight opportunities when defenders over purse or otherwise execute imperfectly.

Last week, reserve quarterback Miles Osei was able to break containment and scamper for first downs on long runs—a sight that simply cannot be frequently seen Saturday for the Sun Devils. ASU absolutely has to try to make Franklin as one-dimensional as possible and limit his impact on the ground.

In general, the yardage allowed on the ground by the Sun Devil defense versus the Illini creates substantial concern as Franklin nearly netted 1,000 yards in 2011 and totaled 15 rushing touchdowns. Additionally, the combination of Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy at running back is capable of creating an impact, and the Tigers' stable of receivers is seasoned and competent. Though the Devils undoubtedly need to pressure Franklin as much as possible, it must be done responsibly as not to allow gaping holes for large gains.


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