Missouri carries a string of 22 consecutive non-conference wins during the regular season into Friday's game at Arizona State. The last time the Tigers dropped a pre-Big 12 game was back in 2005, to New Mexico.
Following a season-opening 17-6 win over Miami (OH), the Tigers have posted 41 wins since the beginning of the 2007 season, which ranks in a tie for 6th nationally over that span of time, among BCS-AQ League schools. On that list, Missouri ranks behind Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia Tech, and are tied with LSU, Oregon, Texas, and USC.
Missouri and Florida have each had five first-round NFL draft picks over the past three years, from 2009-2011, which is only to Alabama's seven first-round picks over that three year period. Among Missouri's current seniors, there appears to be a handful or so who are likely to be drafted next spring.
In looking at week one opponents, Miami (OH) certainly ranks among the upper half of the Big 12 conference foes. I believe that time will tell us that Miami (OH) was a much stronger opponent than most realize. That's significant when assessing statistics, and statistical rankings, based upon such a small sample size as just the one game. For example, it lends some credibility to Missouri's number one ranking within the Big 12 in scoring defense, a ranking that the Tigers appear likely to continue to approximate.
Missouri head Coach Gary Pinkel talked about the challenge of playing in a hostile environment on Friday night.
"In our league, the stadiums that we go into, are like the Sun Devils' stadium," explained Coach Pinkel. "I look at it as a great opportunity to play in some great venues. So, we're excited about it……………………………… More important is how we play. Our focus is on playing our best. If you're going to be good, you have to win games on the road."
Here's what Arizona State Head Coach Dennis Erickson had to say about the Tigers.
"You take Missouri as a whole, in my opinion, and what they've done ever since Gary (Pinkel) has been there," began Coach Erickson, talking about his team's opponent on Friday night. "They've been to seven straight bowl games. They're right atop of one of the better conferences in the country. I've always had a great respect for them. They play very disciplined. Offensively, they're very similar to a lot of the things we do. They have a great tight end, but he plays more wide receiver than he does tight end. They'll spread you out and no huddle and do those kinds of things. They have a lot of talent. Their offensive front, other than the fact they lost their left tackle a couple weeks ago, is intact from a year ago. They've got great receivers, and I like (James) Franklin. He's an outstanding quarterback. He's a little different. Every year, Gary's kind of had different quarterbacks, from (Chase) Daniel to (Blaine) Gabbert to Brad Smith, who was a runner. And, that's what Franklin is. He's a guy who's going to keep the football in the option. They'll probably run more plays with him as a runner than they did before, but they're still the same. They spread you out and play fast, and throw it and catch it, and they're very talented. Defensively, they've got a lot of guys coming back. Their front four, we thought in watching them, was as good as we've seen in a while. They're a very fast, very athletic football team. And, they're very similar to us in a lot of ways on defense. They can run, and they're a top-25 football team. I don't know what else you could say. They're a really good football team, well-disciplined, and well-coached."
Coach Erickson is concerned about Franklin's running ability. I anticipate that on Friday evening, Franklin may just make Coach Erickson take notice of his passing ability, as well. While Missouri may be able to have success running the football against the Sun Devils, I expect to see Franklin, and his receivers, have a bounce-back performance in the passing game. I think Franklin learned a lot from game one, and he's shown the ability, albeit in practice, to receive coaching, learn from his mistakes, make adjustments, and recover from a sub-par performance. I know that he expects to play better.
If Coach Erickson's concerns materialize, and Missouri is able to successfully run the football against ASU, that would be a big advantage for the Tigers in this game. Missouri is banged up along the offensive line, and at tailback, but if they can avoid further injuries there, the Tigers should be able to have at least some success in their running game.
On Friday, Missouri is likely to be without the services of both Jerrell Jackson and Eric Waters, but everyone else in the receiving corps appears to be healthy, and Marcus Lucas now has a start, and a TD catch, under his belt. Bud Sasser got his feet wet last week, as well. Jimmie Hunt continues to prepare to play. The continued maturation, development, and utilization of those three young play makers promises to add a dynamic quality to this Missouri offense. L'Damian Washington will also see plenty of action in Tempe. Getting Michael Egnew more involved in the passing game would bode well for Missouri.
With the exception of the kick-off coverage unit, Coach Pinkel had to appreciate the play of Missouri's special teams. Against ASU, it will be critical for the Tigers need to tighten up their kick-off coverage.
Defensively, Missouri's strength is up front, where the Tigers are two deep across the board with future NFL-caliber players. Hamilton and Terrell Resonno are committed to shutting down the run game, which will be critical against ASU.
To say that the strength of Missouri's defense is up front is not to say that Missouri's back seven is not strong. Despite being a little thin, after the loss of starting MLB Will Ebner, Missouri's LB corps is as good as it's been under Coach Pinkel. And, this talented, young secondary may be Coach Pinkel's best, as well.
Andrew Wilson has moved into the middle, for which he is best suited, and where he is going to establish himself as Missouri's best MLB, under Coach Pinkel. Wilson led Missouri in tackles against Miami (OH), and was just all over the field.
Missouri gets Kip Edwards back this week, joining E.J. Gaines, and providing Coach Pinkel with the best pair of corners of his Missouri tenure. And, with his first start under his belt, safety Matt White will continue to improve. Earlier this week, Coach Pinkel talked about White.
"Matt (White) is really doing well," said Coach Pinkel. "He's a really good athlete! He came in with a 43" vertical jump! He's a very, very bright guy. He came in at 172 pounds. I think he was 193 pounds the other day. He's a very, very good athlete, and he's very bright………………………….. He's got a very good career ahead of him."
"Their defensive line stands out to me," replied Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler, when asked what it is about Missouri that stands out to him. "They have some big, athletic guys up front and they play with a lot of intensity. They have a few linebackers who have played for a couple of years and are very talented. Their secondary doesn't make a lot of mistakes and (they) really understand what they are doing in coverage. Their defense plays sound, disciplined football. Overall, I see a great defense and a great football team and I expect a good, fun game."