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.