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.