Dennis Erickson is in his fifth year as the head coach at Arizona State. In week one, his Sun Devils defeated 1-AA UC Davis 48-14. After that season-opening victory, Coach Erickson talked about facing Missouri in week two.
"It's a big game for us," said Coach Erickson. "We are going to have to play a lot better in that game than we did (against UC Davis)."
Led by Pre-Season All-American, MLB Vontaze Burfict 6'3" 252, the linebackers unit is clearly the strength of this defense, if not the entire team. The junior All-American, and All-Pac-10 selection paced the Sun Devils last year with 90 tackles, 8.5 of them for a loss. Many experts have tabbed Burflict as the best LB in the country. He's mean, and fast, and he enjoys pain, especially when he's inflicting it on others. Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel was asked about Burflict.
"He's a great player," replied Coach Pinkel. "He's a very physical player who runs (well)………………………………………. They've got a lot of good players."
Like Missouri, ASU has had to deal with injuries. Prior to the season, ASU lost two projected starters for the season, including CB Omar Bolden, and OLB Brandon Magee. RB Deantre Lewis has not yet returned to the line-up, after suffering a gunshot wound in Februay.
Against UC Davis, the Sun Devils lost back-up safety Ezekiel Bishop for the season. And starting right tackle, Aderious Simmons, sprained an ankle. On Monday, Coach Erickson said that he didn't think that Simmons will play against Missouri.
ASU also has a very good defensive line, which includes sophomore DE Junior Onyeali 5'11" 233, senior DE Jamaar Jarrett 6'5" 260, sophomore DT Will Sutton 6'2" 285, and either senior DT Bo Moos 6'0" 286, or junior DT Corey Adams 6'3" 285. In 2010, Onyeali was named the Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. A year ago, the speedy Onyeali led the Sun Devils with 6.5 sacks.
"They have a really good football team," said Coach Pinkel, speaking of Arizona State earlier this week. "It's a great place to play. We were in this stadium for our bowl game…………………………………Their QB is a very good player. I'm very, very impressed with him, as I see him play. Their receivers have great speed. They're very, very impressive there. Their running back, Marshall, is a really good player. He can do a lot of different things. So, they've got a very talented, experienced group of players on offense. And, they've got some great players on defense. They're very physical. They play very aggressive defense, and they run well."
Junior Brock Osweiler 6'8" 235 is the Sun Devils' starting QB. He came into 2011 with three career starts under his belt, having experienced a modicum of success. In the Sun Devils' season opener against UC-Davis, Osweiler was 19-26-1 passing, for 262 yards and 2 TDs. He's a former D-1 basketball recruit, who's relatively mobile for someone his size, and has a strong arm.
ASU is in their second season running a no-huddle, spread offense. Against UC-Davis, ASU averaged snapping the football with 16 seconds showing on the play clock. Their offensive identity is rooted in the complexity of their scheme, and in the speed of their skill position players. The ASU offense is similar to the Missouri offense.
Osweiler is joined in the back field by a trio of backs. Junior Cameron Marshall 5'11" 223 is an experienced, versatile back, considered to be a top-tier Pac-12 running back. Sophomore Kyle Middlebrooks 5'8" 175 is another experienced back, who had 10 carries for 62 yards against UC-Davis. The third back, junior Jamal Miles 5'10" 183, is listed as their F WR, but can line up just about anywhere.
In 2010, the Sun Devils ranked second in the nation in kickoff return average (27.54 yards per return) with three separate athletes each notching a touchdown return last year. In 2011, Middlebrooks (26.4 yards per kick-off return) and Miles (39.3 yards per kick-off return, 8.6 yards per punt return) will assume most of the duties. Against UC-Davis, Miles returned a kick-off 98 yards for a TD.
Last season, Arizona State's prolific passing offense was nationally ranked, and has returned several quality receivers. The Sun Devils are experienced at the receiver positions, with four seniors who are expected to carry most of the load, including Gerell Robinson 6'4" 222, Aaron Pflugrad 5'10" 180, Mike Willie 6'4" 220, and George Bell 6'3" 203. Junior A.J. Pickens 5'10" 176 is listed behind Miles, and is another speedster that the Sun Devils can run out onto the field. Against UC-Davis, Marshall and Robinson led ASU in receiving, with four receptions each.
"(Arizona State's) defense is playing exceptional," summarized Coach Pinkel. "They have some great players. They run well. I'm very, very impressed with them. Offensively, I think their quarterback is really outstanding. (He's) a big, tall guy. He moves well, has a good arm, and a good delivery. They have a lot of people around him that run fast!"
The Sun Devils have been pointing toward this nationally-televised contest against Missouri, which is seen in Tempe as an opportunity for Arizona State to gain significant traction for their football program, to make a statement.
"I wouldn't want it any other way," said Osweiler, talking about the spotlight that is on this game against Missouri. "This is a game we've had circled for a very long time. We don't like to look ahead, but when I was getting recruited to come here, this was a game that we talked about. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm very happy it is on national television on a Friday night. It gives our team a chance to show what we're truly made of this year and it's going to be a lot of fun."
[NCAA Ranking in Brackets]
MIZZOU__________________ ARIZONA STATE
291.00 [90th]___ Total Offense___ 517.00 [12th]
162.00 [51st]___Rushing Offense__ 217.00 [29th]
1____________TDs Rushing___________ 3
129.00 [94th]___Passing Offense__ 300.00 [21st]
112.08 [80th]__ Passing Efficiency__ 168.13 [25th]
1____________TDs Passing___________ 2
17.00 [85th]____Scoring Offense___ 48.00 [17th]
270.00 [29th]___ Total Defense___ 243.00 [23rd]
76.00 [27th]___ Rushing Defense___ 88.00 [34th]
1_________ TDs Allowed Rushing_________ 2
194.00 [56th]___Passing Defense__ 155.00 [34th]
103.36 [36th]__ Pass Effic. Defense_ 103.40 [37th]
0_________ TDs Allowed Passing_________ 0
6.00 [11th]_____Scoring Defense___14.00 [32nd]
+1.00 [T-28th]_ Turnover Margin___ -1.00 [81st]
1_________ Interceptions Thrown_________ 1
1_________ Interceptions Gained_________ 0
12.50 [106th]__Kickoff Return Avg.__ 53.67 [2nd]
10.00 [32nd]___ Punt Return Avg.___ 15.50 [18th]
37.86 [56th]___ Net Punting Avg.____ 58.00 [1st]
3.00 [T-22nd]_____Sacks By_____4.00 [T-12th]
2.00 [T-58th]___ Sacks Allowed_____0.00 [T-1st]
26:16 [87th]___ Avg. Time of Poss.___ 29:32 [59th]
23.1% [T-95th]__3rd Down Conv.__41.7% [T-51st]
0.0% [T-63rd]___4th Down Conv.__50.0% [T-41st]