ASU Vs. Missouri: 4th And Goal - The Keys To A Sun Devil Victory

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.

For more coverage, check out the latest episode of "Speak of the Devils" podcast, in which ESPN SportsCenter's John Anderson and Doug Haller of The Arizona Republic preview the game.

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