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‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.' -Teddy Roosevelt
Many lessons can be derived from the heroes of history, but that doesn't mean you have to take their wisdom as sacrosanct. Brock Osweiler and the Sun Devils decided during fall camp that they would speak boldly, but ASU had to wait until Friday night against Missouri to prove that they could walk the walk.
The biggest hint of the Sun Devil swagger was apparent during ASU's media day, where a dozen or so Devils spoke with members of the media in preparation for the regular season.
"The mindset of this team is unbelievable right now. The confidence we have, the energy, the family atmosphere that we've created around the building -- there's a lot of really special things going on around here," Osweiler said a month ago. "We're not destined for a 6-6 bowl game. We're not destined for a 7-5 bowl game. We know this team can do bigger things."
Not only did the ASU players feel confident about their bowl prospects, but they truly believe that they can play in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans in January 2012. Going to the Pac-12 Championship Game isn't the goal; it is solely a worthy stepping stone in a season of destiny for these athletes.
"We're going to a BCS game, I know that much," wide receiver Gerell Robinson said, "and then the Pac-12 championship game."
College athletes are expected to talk a big game, believing fully in their ability to defeat the opponent. For a Sun Devils team that hasn't been to a bowl game since the 2007 season, however, the talk seemed over the top.
Little could be determined about this team during their season opener against UC Davis, demolishing a lesser opponent by 34 points while playing vanilla schemes on both sides of the ball. All that was for certain was that this team believed in itself, showing confidence and unity. In essence, we saw the development of a team.
Naturally, the Missouri Tigers and their Big XII pedigree provided a much stiffer challenge on September 9, but the fans and team both responded. On a night where lightning slashed through the sky and rain fell on a sellout crowd of 70,000+, ASU overcame special teams and defensive issues to win their first game over a ranked opponent since the aforementioned 2007 season.
Fans of the team had a strange sense of déjà vu as they watched their team give up a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, only to win in an overtime thriller.
The final play of the game, a fourth down incomplete pass by Missouri quarterback James Franklin, was the loudest that I've ever heard Sun Devil Stadium. The upper deck was literally shaking as the entire crowd rose up to support the team, and a deafening roar overcame the stadium.
The Devils didn't speak softly during the preseason, and in the end the fans decided to join them. Together, the nation took notice - the Sun Devils have arrived, an imperfect win over a Big XII power that allows ASU, at least for one more week, to dream big.
Any lingering doubts as to whether Brock Osweiler can become a big-time quarterback were answered with a resounding "Hell yes!" against Missouri.
The junior was simply outstanding throughout the night, connecting on 24 of his 32 attempts for 353 yards and three touchdowns, and did not turn the ball over. He also added 34 yards on the ground, including a 12-yard touchdown.
He consistently stood strong in the pocket, went through his reads and progressions and then delivered the ball with outstanding accuracy and velocity. He showed off a developing gunslinging tendency, throwing into small windows and on the run with decisiveness. Osweiler never panicked even when his teammates seemed to go out of their way to find ways to lose. Instead, he led them to their biggest win since defeating Cal in 2007.
Running Backs: C-
It speaks to the effectiveness of the unit that the biggest play of the night from the group came from a player who isn't really a running back. Jamal Miles took a lateral from Osweiler in the third quarter and threw a touchdown pass to Aaron Pflugrad on the halfback option.
The Sun Devil running game was shut down all night, never able to break the big runs that Missouri's injury-weakened defense appeared vulnerable to. Cameron Marshall only gained 61 yards on 22 carries, a paltry 2.8 yard-per-carry average. Miles ran twice for 13 yards and Kyle Middlebrooks' lone carry lost two yards. Both Marshall and Middlebrooks had two receptions, but for only 33 total yards.
For their lack of effectiveness running, the group did a better job in pass protection. ASU ran an interesting version of the pistol formation, with backs flanking Osweiler with another behind him, and they did a fine job in picking up the Tiger pass rush.
Wide Receivers: A-
Saturday night was the Aaron Pflugrad show.
The senior, following up on his two touchdown effort from a week ago, matched his career high with eight receptions and set a new personal best with 180 yards. Oh, and he scored another pair of touchdowns. He was Osweiler's go-to target in every critical situation, evidenced by the fact that of his eight receptions, seven went for first downs or touchdowns. Whether it was working the deep routes for a 60-yard bomb or the tough routes in traffic over the middle for a key third down conversion, Pflugrad was clutch.
Utilityman Jamal Miles is officially listed as a wide receiver, so his contributions will come here. He made six catches for 50 yards and scored ASU's first and last touchdowns. As mentioned above, he also threw a perfect ball to Pflugrad on an option play for a score.
The Devils' other starting receivers had a relatively quiet night. Gerrell Robinson had a 51-yard catch to set up ASU's first touchdown, but only made one other catch for 15 yards the rest of the night. Mike Willie continues to be a forgotten man in the offense, making two grabs for 22 yards. Through two games, Willie has three grabs for 27 yards.
Offensive Line: B-
It was a tale of two phases for the offensive line.
The unit struggled mightily in the running game against a weakened front seven of the Missouri defense. They were unable to generate any push and leverage, which resulted in very few lanes for the ASU running backs. As a team, the Devils only ran for 104 yards on 31 carries, which amounted to a substandard 3.4 yard-per carry average.
However, they were outstanding in pass protection.
Osweiler had plenty of time on most of his throws, which gave him a chance to make the correct read and find the gaps in the Tiger defense. He was only sacked once during the game. That protection helped him have a career performance that resulted in a Sun Devils win.
However, the line did have problems with penalties. The most critical being a holding call that negated a first down pass and forced a Sun Devil punt, which the Tigers then took down the field for the tying touchdown.
Defensive Line: D
The Sun Devil defensive line had a night to forget.
Not a single player made a major contribution, and they were routinely pushed around by a Missouri offensive line that was missing two starters.
Highly touted end Junior Onyeali was a complete non-factor, making only three tackles. Davon Coleman was the marginal "star" of the group, making four tackles including one for a three-yard loss. Toa Tuitea did make one of the Devils' two sacks.
The most disappointing aspect was their lack of push against the Tiger running game. Missouri ran for 182 yards and averaged nearly five yards-per-carry. Their performance was certainly bad enough to cost ASU the win and they are fortunate in how the game ended.
If your name wasn't Colin Parker, your had a disappointing game.
Parker was outstanding, leading the team with 11 tackles, including 10 solo. He routinely made great open-field tackles, something the rest of the defense failed to do.
Vontaze Burfict notched another sack to give him four through two games, but on the national stage, he did very little to stand out. He and the other 'backers consistently were caught overpursuing which allowed for some big Tiger plays.
Tiger quarterback James Franklin took advantage of that failing to rush for 84 yards (he topped 100 yards if you eliminate the yardage lost on sacks). He often ran right past the ASU linebackers, who were unable to shed their blocks quickly.
Shelly Lyons did play well in coverage, and had a key breakup in the second half.
Had the Devils lost the game, that grade become an F.
Missouri is not a team that throws down the field with great regularity, and as such, the pressure was on the ASU secondary to wrap up and make the tackles. They did not do that in any capacity during the game, as Tiger players routine ran right by defenders trying to make a flashy tackle instead of a technically sound one.
Franklin, who struggled passing against the Miami of Ohio defense a week ago, had a career day against ASU. He dissected the ASU secondary for 319 yards and two touchdowns. Included in that total were pass completions of 49, 36, 25 and 20 yards.
Even in the rare event that they were in right position, the ASU secondary couldn't make the play. On the final drive of regulation, safety Eddie Elder stepped in front of a Franklin pass and had an easy interception and clear path to the end zone. Instead, he dropped the ball and Missouri had a chance at a game-winning field goal. Thankfully, they missed it.
Special Teams: C-
Kicker Alex Garoutte had his first miss of the season on a 42-yard attempt in the first quarter, but redeemed himself by making a 47-yarder in the second.
The low-point of the night surely made ASU fans everywhere scream in disgust when Garoutte had a second quarter extra point blocked. Given that the game went into overtime, it illustrates how costly the easiest play in the sport can be if botched.
The kickoff coverage team did not do a tremendous job, but they were better than they were last week. T.J. Moe gained 108 yards on his five returns, with a long of 29 yards.
On the return front, the Devils had a few decent returns by Kyle Middlebrooksand Rashad Ross of 32 and 31 on kickoffs, as Missouri kicked away from Miles all night. Miles did have a 27-yard punt return, but muffed a punt that was recovered by Missouri, who later scored.
12 for 110.
That is the number of penalties penalty yards the Sun Devils gave up on Friday night, many of which were simply stupid and almost all were costly. This is a problem that seemingly will never be remedied under the Dennis Erickson regime, and Devils were beyond lucky that the Tigers were as undisciplined as they were, committing 11 penalties of their own for 114 yards.
The inability of the Sun Devil defense to tackle properly is also a reflection of the coaching staff. That poor tackling was a major factor in the defense allowing 501 yards to a team that could only muster 291 last week against Miami of Ohio. With teams like Oregon, Utah, USC and Arizona on the schedule, this must be fixed immediately.
ASU was lucky to win on Friday night in spite of these inexcusable errors. If this continues, their luck will certainly run out quickly.
It was a strange and slightly spooky night in Tempe, AZ as the Arizona State University Sun Devils unveiled their new all black uniforms against the white-clad Missouri Tigers. The nearly full stadium of fans were decked out for the first-ever Blackout which created quite a visual spectacle. Making the event even more memorable was the lightening strikes visible in nearby parts of town and flashing across the sky to the south. It even rained a bit.
The game was just as odd as the circumstances with both teams making big plays and both teams making multiple, painful mistakes. ASU blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead and Missouri wasn't able to convert a game-winning field goal from 47 yards. Fittingly, the game went into overtime where both tired teams continued to slug it out.
In the end, Brock Osweiler was able to manufacture a touchdown with an 11-yard pass to Jamal Miles on the first over time possession. The Tigers were held in check on their overtime attempt to give the win to the home team.
"It was a black out, it was sold out, it was a Friday night game. We could not make things easy, had to make things exciting." Osweiler said after the game.
"Our team is just relentless. We could not give up. We came onto the field tonight wearing t-shirts that said "Band of Brothers" and we firmly believe that is how this team is and how we stick together and ultimately, how we get through these hard fought games."
ASU moved the ball extremely well all game and took a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, just as we saw with this team last year, mistakes were their worst enemy. A fumbled punt after an important defensive stop and numerous penalties allowed the Tigers to close the gap to within one touchdown.
After getting the ball back, the Sun Devils defense looked like they were going to hold before the Tigers converted a fourth down and managed to recover from third and 29 to complete 49-yard pass and move into the red zone. The Devils defense cracked under the pressure and gave up a game-tying touchdown on fourth down and four.
Brock Osweiler got the ball back with under three minutes with the ball on the 40-yard line but wasn't able to get even one first down which gave the ball back to Missouri with time on the clock.
Missouri started their drive around their own 10 yard line with under two minutes and quickly racked up 39-yards on a run to the outside, once again taking advantage of the Sun Devils inability to contain the edges. A few more plays moved the Tigers within field goal range.
Kicker Grant Ressel missed a 48-yard attempt that would have won the game with only 12 seconds on the clock. The miss sent the game into extra time.
ASU finished with 492 total yards compared to 501 for Mizzou. Osweiler had an outstanding game as he threw for 353 yards on 24-32 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Brock also ran for a TD and 37 yards.
Missouri's James Franklin was 25-40 for 314 yards with two touchdowns through the air. He added 94 yards rushing on 25 attempts with another touchdown. ASU receiver Aaron Pflugrad caught eight passes for 180 yards for a performance coach Dennis Erickson said was among the best he's seen from a receiver.
"Aaron Pflugrad had one of the better football games I have ever had from a receiver. I don't know how many catches he had, I don't know the stats, but what I do know is that every time we needed something he made a big play. He was without a doubt the most valuable player in that game and made plays every time," Erickson said.
On the messy side, both teams combined for 21 penalties for 214 yards. The Sun Devils had a point after attempt blocked and missed a 42-yard field goal.
All said and done, it was a big win for the Devils. A loss would have set a bad tone for the season. A loss after leading by 14 in the fourth quarter would have been a gut punch.
For more ASU Sun Devil discussion, visit House of Sparky blog.
Prior to the highly anticipated match-up between No. 23 Arizona State and the No. 19 Missouri Tigers, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott took questions regarding the swirling speculation that the Pac-12 would be the new home of a few high profile refugees from the Big 12, including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas.
Despite the persistent speculation, Scott said that the Pac-12 is not actively looking to move beyond the current 12-team alignment. At the same time, he does feel that there will eventually be further consolidation and the possibility of adding teams was built into the new TV deal. If at some point, the Pac-12 adds more schools, the deal has automatic triggers included to handle that.
Here's the full video of Commissioner Scott's interview:
The Arizona State Sun Devils lead the Misouri Tigers 23-16 after three quarters of play. The Sun Devils scored two touchdowns in the period while the Tigers scored two field goals.
The quarter opened up with a 41-yard drive by the Tigers, which ended on a 47-yard field goal by kicker Grant Ressel. Tigers quarterback James Franklin again created plays with his running ability, but he was limited by the ASU defense and the Tigers were force to settle for a field goal.
The Sun Devils moved the ball to about midfield on the following possession, but were ultimately forced to punt. The Tigers took the ball from their own nine-yard line all the way to the Sun Devils' one-yard line. ASU made a stand, though, and the Tigers settled for a 19-yard field goal.
The Sun Devils resorted to some trickery on the next drive, and the highlight of a 65-yard drive came on the final play when Jamal Miles threw a 35-yard touchdown to Aaron Pflugrad. Kicker Alex Garoutte nailed the extra point.
The play served as turning point in the quarter. ASU's defense held the Tigers to a three-and-out on the next drive, and the Sun Devils are on the drive. ASU will start the fourth quarter on the Tigers' 16-yard line.
The second quarter opened with the Sun Devils driving on the Missouri 23. Some tough runs fell just shy of a first down and an ill-advised personal foul forced ASU into a 47-yard field goal attempt. Alex Garoutte shook off his earlier miss from 42-yards to connect to give extend the ASU lead to 10-3.
Undaunted, Missouri drove back. Facing excellent ASU coverage, James Franklin scrambled on a 3rd and 14 for 22 yards. He later overcame that coverage to connect on a pair of 20-yard receptions to put the ball at the ASU 1. A Franklin fumble was recovered by the Tigers and an overthrown ball on the ensuing play seemed to end the threat...however, the Devils were called for pass interference in the end zone. On the next play, Franklin kept the ball for the Tiger touchdown.
Brock Osweiler wasted little time in issuing a Sun Devil response. On the first play of the next drive, he found a streaking Aaron Pflugrad for a 60-yard touchdown to retake the lead. However, the nightmare of 2010 resurfaced as the ensuing extra point was blocked.
Despite a 3-and-out on their next possession, a 73 yard punt pinned ASU deep at their own 6, but a personal foul on Missouri gave the Devils some breathing room. Another Tiger personal foul, this time for a facemask, negated a big Missouri sack, but there was no damage done as ASU was forced to punt despite their foray into Tiger territory, being fair caught at the nine yard line.
Missouri looked to run out the clock, but ASU penalties for holding and roughing the passer gave the Tigers a new lease on life. They managed to maneuver themselves into range for a 54-yard kick, but the kick was missed.
It's a 16-10 ASU lead in very imperfect first half
Between traffic and parking the sellout crowd of over 71,000 fans were a bit late for the start of this exciting game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Missouri Tigers. The first quarter
Arizona got the ball first and quickly drove down to the 25-yard line behind several successful screen passes and a 25-yard pass from quarterback Brock Osweiler to tight end Chris Coyle. The drive stalled there and ended in a missed 42-yard field goal from new ASU kicker, Alex Garouttte.
The Devils got the ball back quickly after the defense forced a three-and-out. After a few running plays to soften things up, Oweiler had plenty of time to find a streaking Gerell Robinson for a 51-yard completion. Osweiler then threaded a pass between multiple defenders for a touch down to Jamal Miles.
The first scoring drive of the game was just five plays and went for 77 yards, demonstrating what the high-powered Sun Devil offense can do.
Missouri came right back with a series of mid-range passes and nifty running from Tiger quarterback James Franklin. The drive suffered a 10-yard holding penalty and the Tigers settled for a 24-yard field goal.
The first quarter ends with the ASU Sun Devils driving again. The ball was on the Tiger 23-yard line as the period ended. The Sun Devils finished the quarter with 140 total yards compared to 47 for Mizzou.
In perhaps the greatest indication of the Tigers' mounting injury woes, the line for tonight's clash between No. 23 Arizona State and No. 19 Missouri has now moved to make the Sun Devils a full 10 point favorite.
The opening line was 6.5 in favor of ASU, a figure that raised some eyebrows, given the Tigers' rank and 22-game non-conference winning streak.
However a rash of key injuries combined with their lackluster 17-6 victory over Miami of Ohio last week have cast further doubt in the linemaker's heads on Missouri's chances.
They will be without two starting offensive linemen in left tackle Elvis Fisher and center Travis Ruth, their starting running back in Kendial Lawrence and their best deep threat in wide receiver Jerrell Jackson. However, the injuries may be most evident on defense, where the Tigers will try to slow the Sun Devil offense without All-Big 12 defensive end Jacquies Smith and linebacker Will Ebner
The action kicks off at Sun Devil Stadium at 7:30.
If the stakes weren't high enough already for the Arizona State Sun Devils and Missouri Tigers, the early word out of Tempe is an unexpectedly high number of NFL scouts will be in attendance for the game Friday evening (7:30 p.m. MST on ESPN).
From Craig Morgan of CBS Sports, he tweets:
Cards, Raiders, Texans, Colts, Skins, Panthers, Giants, Vikes, 49ers, Bears, Falcons, Steelers, Ravens will have scouts at #ASU-Mizzou game.
As for the players those scouts will likely be in attendance for, one would have to assume all eyes will be on star linebacker Vontaze Burfict. A good number of those teams project to have high draft picks in the 2012 Draft and linebacker is always a position of need looking to be filled.
As for Mizzou, their star tight end Michael Egnew projects to be a first or second round draft pick next season. The senior has some of the best hands of any tight end -- or wide receiver, for that matter -- in the country and projects to be an impact player at the next level.
Only a few hours remain until the Blackout hits Tempe.
With the Arizona State Sun Devils set to host the 19th ranked Missouri Tigers in one of the nation's marquee match-ups, let take a look at four of the key factors of this game and the primary goal in ASU's quest for a signature win.
1st - Hold the Line
Coming into the season, the Tigers may have had the best defensive end tandem in the nation with Jacquies Smith and Brad Madison. Both players were All-Big 12 performers a season ago, which is a remarkable feat considering they shared a position with Aldon Smith, who was the seventh overall pick in last April's NFL Draft.
Thankfully for the Devils, Smith will miss the game due to a dislocated elbow, but that doesn't lessen the threat that the Missouri pass rush poses.
Right tackle Aderious Simmons will miss the game and be replaced in the starting lineup by Dan Knapp. Knapp and left tackle Evan Finkenberg must contain Madison. The Tigers will also attack from the other end spot, with young pass rushers Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, a Freshman All-American pick last season.
The Devil offense relies heavily on timing and execution, and the fastest way to ruin their effectiveness is to have quarterback Brock Osweiler under heavy pressure all night.
2nd - Wrap Up
The Missouri offense is predicated on spreading the field with three and four receiver sets and attacking opponents with the pass. In fact, the Tigers haven't had a season with more runs than passes since 2005.
However, the Tigers do not like to stretch the field with their passing game, and the Tigers' top deep threat, Jerrell Jackson, will miss the game. Their top two targets, wide receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew, both caught over 90 passes in 2010 but neither surpassed 12 yards per reception (11.4 for Moe, 8.5 for Egnew).
Knowing that the Tiger receivers won't be behind them, the Sun Devil secondary must be sure that they tackle what's in front of them. In particular, the match-up between the 6'6", 245 pound Egnew and ASU's 5'10", 186 pound strong safety Eddie Elder will be among the most critical of the night.
3rd - Pressure and Contain James Franklin
Following the prolific passing numbers of Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert before him, James Franklin inherited the starting quarterback position for Missouri last week. Unlike his honored predecessors, Franklin is not yet a polished passer, but is a legitimate running threat.
In last week's win over Miami of Ohio, Franklin only threw for 129 yards while completing 17 of his 26 attempts with a touchdown and an interception, hardly typical Tiger numbers. However, he did lead the team in both carries (14) and rushing yards (72) and had a five yard touchdown run.
ASU showed off a potential fearsome pass rush last week. It also featured the linebackers blitzing much more than last season, with the group tallying four of the team's five sacks. Vontaze Burfict's three sacks are tied for the national lead.
The Sun Devil front seven must continue their relentless pass rushing on Franklin. That task will be easier as two of Missouri's starting linemen-left tackle Elvis Fisher and center Travis Ruth-are out with injury. Franklin has some excellent receiving targets and the Tiger passing game favors quick passes, so getting to him quickly is paramount.
Should he take off with the ball, ASU's linebackers must be able to chase and contain him, preventing the big runs of which he is capable.
4th - Execute on Special Teams
Games between evenly ranked teams are often determined by the play of the special teams units. Given their performance from last week, Arizona State has a nice advantage in that area.
With his continued excellence, it's nearly getting to the point to expect a big return or two every game from ASU's Jamal Miles. In last week's opener, he took a kickoff 98-yards for a touchdown and added a 25-yard punt return. This comes after a 2010 season in which he averaged nearly nine yards on punt returns and had a 99-yard touchdown among his three kickoff returns.
With the returns in good hands, it will be up to the Sun Devil coverage units to correct their mistakes from last week. UC Davis had great success on kickoffs, gashing the Devils for returns of 34 and 41 yards en route to a 28.4 average for the night. The talent level the coverage units will face this week increases dramatically, so the Sun Devils must do a much better job of shedding their blocks and maintaining their lanes.
Finally, kicker Alex Garoutte must carry over the positive momentum from his sterling debut. After a very shaky fall camp, the redshirt freshman impressed by connecting on field goals of 49 and 25-yards and making all six of his extra points. As ASU learned in heartbreaking fashion a season ago, one missed kick can ruin everything.
Goal - Don't Wither Under the Friday Night Lights
Make no mistake; this is a huge game for Arizona State. While it may not be the season maker or breaker that it's being made out to be, the ramifications of this match-up will have a great impact.
A win results in lofty positions in both of the major polls, national recognition and momentum to carry over into next week's road trip to Illinois.
A loss, however, destroys all the hype and excitement that has surrounded this team since that second extra point was blocked last December 2nd In a highly fair-weather market like Phoenix, that could be a critical blow.
As if that wasn't enough pressure, this game was moved to Friday to allow it to be broadcast nationally on ESPN, features the debut of the Sun Devils much hyped black uniforms and will have Sun Devil Stadium nearly filled to capacity.
ASU's recent history has shown a chronic inability to rise to the challenge of the big stage. The scars of LSU, Georgia, Wisconsin and a few USC games still remain. Will this be the breakthrough that Sun Devil fans have desired for so many years? Can they weather any early nerve-induced mistakes?
The answers will be revealed Friday night at 7:30.
Few things in football are more difficult to stop than the dual threat quarterback. Speedy runners with strong arms are a nightmare to prepare for, all the way from the defensive coordinator's playbook to the practice squad. Missouri brings a talented quarterback into Tempe on Friday night, as James Franklin makes his second career start against the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils haven't had to do deal with too many running quarterbacks, as the Pac-12 is generally traditional under center. Outside of Jake Locker and Darron Thomas, ASU did not see a true QB running threat in 2010.
Before this season, Franklin was largely used as a change of pace quarterback, spelling the departed Blaine Gabbert and providing coach Gary Pinkel with a new look. In 2010, Franklin carried the ball 23 times, picking up 116 yards while attempting 14 passes for 106 yards. In short bursts, Franklin was extremely effective.
We saw on Saturday that a full dose of Franklin was a little more difficult for Tigers fans to digest, struggling to lead the offense downfield in a 17-6 victory over Miami (OH).
Based on what the Tigers did against the Redhawks, we can deduce the following: Missouri will run the ball a lot, making short throws to keep the defense honest while not putting too much faith in the deep passing game. While Franklin has a lot of tools in his arsenal, his passing game is mostly raw.
At 6'2" and a sturdy 225 pounds, Franklin is extremely difficult to tackle. The defensive line will be the first bastion of defense against this run-heavy attack, and the combo of Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali will be tasked with clogging the lanes.
The linebackers will also play a huge factor. The experienced trio of Vontaze Burfict, Shelly Lyons and Colin Parker have a big responsibility -- not only will they have to spy on Franklin, they will watch for slant routes over the middle.
This won't be an easy matchup for the Devils, but their rush defense pedigree is highly refined. Friday night brings the biggest early test of the season for ASU, and they must deliver on the promise of Dennis Erickson's make-or-break campaign.
The Arizona State Sun Devils are less than 48 hours away from their big early-season challenge against the Missouri Tigers. The Tigers are ranked No. 21 in the AP poll (in which ASU in not ranked) and No. 19 in the Coaches' Poll (in which ASU is ranked No. 23).
That being said, the Tigers are underdogs in Friday's game. ASU is currently an eight-point favorite in the match-up and appears to have a lot of momentum heading into Friday's match-up.
The Tigers will be motivated to prove the masses wrong. They had a decent performance in a 17-6 victory over Miami (Ohio) but did not put on the dominant performance of a ranked team. Friday's game provides the perfect opportunity to showcase their talent.
ASU, meanwhile, will be motivated to earn their first win against a ranked opponent since 2007, when the Sun Devils beat the No. 18 Cal Golden Bears. The Sun Devils have gone 0-10 against ranked opponents since then, but they have come incredibly close in their recent attempts. Last year, the Sun Devils fell 20-19 to the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers and 17-13 to the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal.
This year, however, is different from past years. The Sun Devils have more talent and more confidence this season than in any of the past few seasons, and the sense of excitement around Tempe could translate into big plays on Friday. The Sun Devils are ready to take on the challenge of the Tigers, and it appears that they will do so as favorites.
Clap, clap. Sing it if you recall the words to Will Smith's "Men In Black."
The Sun Devils can hardly wait to don the all-black gear for Friday night's game against No. 19 Missouri. The last time the Tigers -- who have long used black as part of their color scheme -- were at Sun Devil Stadium, they lost the Insight.com Bowl to Iowa 27-24 last December.
But never mind Mizzou. It's about to be Blackout Friday for Arizona State, the Devils' chance to show the nation they are a much better team than last season. To shine in dark colors.
"It's something I've been dreaming about for a while," quarterback Brock Osweiler said after Wednesday's practice. "I think I have a decent picture of what it might look like but I know when I come out of the tunnel for the first time, it's probably going to blow my mind."
Wearing black is something that isn't truly new to the Devils. During preseason camp and ever since January, the team wore black at Friday workouts, practices and weightlifting sessions. They'd even turn off the lights in the weight room, receiver Mike Willie said.
"It's kind of something with the age of kids now or something," Osweiler said when asked about the appeal of wearing black, "but we all really do like all black. It's something that I wore in high school, we wore all black, and so it's good to get back into it and I kind of feel at home with all-black."
Osweiler was asked more questions about wearing black than about game preparation. But he did say that the keys to victory are limiting the turnover and penalties.
"If we can keep those at a minimum, I think we'll be all right," he said.
Osweiler didn't offer a prediction for the game, but wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad said ASU would win 42-28.
"I don't know if it will be that high-scoring, but I like to think that, being an offensive player," Pflugrad said.
Arizona State soon will head underneath the Friday Night Lights of Sun Devil Stadium for what is shaping up to be their most important game since 2007.
When the No. 23 Sun Devils host the No. 19 Missouri Tigers, the action on the field will be a fast and furious battle between two high powered offenses that spread the field and the ball with great proficiency.
Let's preview the match-up between the ASU offense and the Tiger defense.
As is often the case, this victor in this battle will be determined in the trenches.
The strength of the Tigers' defensive unit is up front, especially at defensive end, where they feature two tremendous pass rushers and All-Big 12 players in Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith. Thankfully for the Devils, Smith dislocated his elbow in last week's game and will miss Friday night's game. However, Madison is the kind of pass rushing force that can create nightmares for quarterback Brock Osweiler. To illustrate that point, Madison led the team in sacks last year despite playing next to Aldon Smith, who was seventh overall pick in April's NFL Draft. Starting right tackle Aderious Simmons suffered a low ankle sprain against UC Davis and will be replaced in the lineup by veteran Dan Knapp. How well Knapp and left tackle Evan Finkenberg are able to contain Madison will be crucial for ASU. In an offensive scheme built upon timing and execution, having Osweiler harried and knocked around would be fatal.
Compounding the difficulty for the Tiger defense is a high ankle sprain that will sideline starting linebacker Will Ebner. That will place greater pressure on weakside linebacker Zavier Gooden, a physical specimen and a versatile playmaker. He has the speed and range to keep with ASU's stable of talented running backs. However, with the holes in the other spots along the front seven, Missouri can be vulnerable to the run.
ASU's Cameron Marshall continues his ascent to the upper-tier of the nation's running backs and will see a heavier workload, both on the ground and in the air. The combination of his power running and Kyle Middlebrooks' speed and shiftiness in the flats could wreak havoc on the thin Tigers' linebacking unit. Look for Marshall to pound runs up the middle to set up the swing passes to the outside to exploit the Devils' speed advantage.
Missouri did get some good news on the injury front as top cornerback Kip Edwards returns to the lineup. He has great size at 6'1", 195-pounds and matches up well with ASU's pair large of 6'4" wide receivers in Gerrell Robinson and Mike Willie. After Edwards, the Tigers are thin at cornerback, so look for Osweiler to air it out more to Robinson, Willie and Aaron Pflugrad on the intermediate routes. The Tigers' safeties are strong, with Kenji Jackson and Tavon Bolden and will provide a challenge for the downfield passing game, but Robinson in particular has the ability to make big plays past them.
The X-factor in this battle should be ASU's dynamic utilityman Jamal Miles. Listed as a starting wide receiver, Miles didn't catch a pass in last week's game but did take his lone handoff 36 yards. That, in addition to his 98-yard kickoff return touchdown, provides the Sun Devils with a game-breaking weapon they'd be wise to exploit early and often on this beleaguered Missouri defense, whether it's by ground or air.
Had the Tigers coming into this critical game healthy on defense, this would be a far more evenly matched battle, but as it stands, the Sun Devils should have advantages in every phase while they have the ball. A point total short of the mid-30s would likely register as a disappointment.
According to ASU media guru Doug Tammaro, the Arizona State Sun Devils' upcoming game against the Missouri Tigers will be attended by "at least a dozen NFL teams/scouts." This news just adds another dimension to an already intriguing match-up for the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils will host the Tigers this Friday, Sept. 9th in the school's first-ever blackout game. ASU can propel itself into the Associated Press Top 25 (which they did not make today following Thursday's 48-14 rout of UC-Davis) with a win over the No. 21 Tigers. Missouri provides the Sun Devils their first real test of the season, and the outcome of the game could go a long way in determining how much this Sun Devil squad can accomplish this year.
The news that at least a dozen scouts will attend the game only adds to the hype. The scouts will surely have their eyes on ASU's Vontaze Burfict, who figures to be a first-round draft pick and who could really improve his stock with a big performance on national television.
The scouts will also take note of any impact players that can alter the course of this game and bring their team a victory. Older Sun Devils and Tigers alike will get the opportunity to improve their draft prospects in this early part of the season with a big game. We'll have to wait until Friday to see who steps up.
Friday night will be the first time in school history that ASU hosts a Blackout; the Sun Devils will wear their all-black jerseys and have asked the fans to come to Frank Kush Field wearing a black shirt.