Missouri Tigers Football: Previewing the Arizona State Sun Devils Game
On Friday, September 9 at 9:30 p.m., the No. 21 ranked Missouri Tigers will take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe, Arizona before a national television audience.
Both teams are coming off opening week victories, but the fashion in which they accomplished these wins were drastically different.
For ASU, defeating UC-Davis was nothing short of a breeze. The Sun Devils leveled their FCS opponent 48-14 without breaking a sweat. Junior quarterback Brock Osweiler handled the reins on offense and led this squad to an easy win.
It wasn't pretty for Missouri, but the top-25 Tigers held off the upstart Miami (OH) Redhawks at home 17-6. Sophomore quarterback James Franklin looked good running the football, but struggled getting the offense consistently downfield. The Tiger defense was stout, sacking Miami (OH) three times and forcing two turnovers.
This week's matchup is vital for both teams to be considered national contenders.
Let's preview Missouri's matchup against Arizona State this coming Friday.
ASU Offense: Osweiler Is Their Man
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The Arizona State Sun Devils are a pass first team, and junior quarterback Brock Osweiler is the field general behind the attack.
Osweiler came on strong for ASU late in 2010. After the incumbent quarterback, Steven Threet, was lost for the season, the 6'8", 240 pound Osweiler subbed in for the last few games and tossed for 797 yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
He can sling it down the field and showed solid poise for a player coming off the bench in 2010. Osweiler didn't disappoint in the team's opening game against UC-Davis, throwing 19 of 26 for 296 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
ASU uses their running game to set up their explosive passing game. Junior Cameron Marshall is the starter, with sophomore Kyle Middlebrooks coming in relief. Last week, Marshall had a pair of goal line touchdowns that highlighted a so-so seven carry, 23-yard performance.
Marshall's biggest asset is his 5'11", 223 pound frame. He's bigger than most college running backs, while the pint-sized Middlebrooks (5'8", 175 lbs) serves as the big-play back.
The ASU receiving corps is composed of veterans, all who caught more than 25 passes a year ago. Senior Mike Willie led the team in receiving touchdowns in 2010 and heads the unit.
Willie, along with seniors Aaron Pflugrad and Gerrell Robinson, and junior Jamal Miles combined for 119 receptions, 1,361 yards, and 17 touchdowns.
The offensive line was solid in last week's game, albeit against a team that couldn't apply much pressure. It's a unit missing two regular starters, but senior Adam Tello may return this week to the blind side of the line. It's easily the weakest part of the ASU offense.
ASU Defense: Meet Vontaze Burfict
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The Sun Devil defense knows how to rush the passer, and it all starts with superstar middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict is widely considered the top college linebacker prospect in the country. He's a 6'3", 253 pound junior with explosive hitting and deadly pass rush abilities. That's a rare combination for a middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
Burfict was a force once again last week against UC-Davis, piling up three sacks for the day. He's tallied 25 sacks in his Sun Devil career and ranks among the top defensive nightmares in the nation. Historically, he has a knack for drawing dumb penalties, but the coaching staff insists he's a more disciplined player in 2011.
ASU has been bitten by the injury bug all around the defense, with senior cornerback Omar Bolden and senior linebacker Brandon Magee both out for the 2011 season. That didn't stop the defense from raking in five sacks in the team's opening game.
Outside of Burfict, there aren't many big names on the defense nationally. But sophomore defensive end Junior Onyeali was the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, recording 61 stops and 6.5 sacks. He can really make a name for himself in 2011.
Without Omar Bolden in the secondary, it's up to junior Deveron Carr to grow up quickly at the cornerback slot in his place. He has some star potential.
Missouri Key Offensive Player
QB James Franklin
Sophomore James Franklin delivered a mundane opening performance against Miami (OH) last week. He was 17-of-26 passing for 129 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Franklin also added 72 yards rushing for a touchdown.
Other than the interception, Franklin made sound decisions with the football, but not flashy ones. Missouri had merely three conversions on third down last week and only one of Franklin's passes went for over 20 yards.
Whether it was conservative play-calling or lack of confidence throwing the deep ball, James Franklin will need to deliver more consistently in the passing game if Missouri wants to score points against a Sun Devil defense that was top-10 nationally a season ago.
Missouri Key Defensive Player
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DE Brad Madison/3rd Down Pass Rush Unit
Junior defensive end Brad Madison recorded a pair of sacks last week, and Missouri will need him to be a force again if they want to slow down Arizona State's passing game.
It's also vital that the strong play entire defensive line, one of the nation's best, continues Friday night. Senior defensive end Jacquies Smith is out for the game with an elbow injury and players like Madison will need to step it up to keep up with the Sun Devils.
Missouri did a nice job with their speed rush/third down package against Miami (OH). That line consisted of four defensive ends, Brad Madison, redshirt freshman Kony Ealy, junior Brayden Burnett and Jacquies Smith.
The third down defensive line package recorded all of the teams sacks and with Madison leading the way, they can expose Arizona State's holes on the offensive line on Friday night.
X-Factor of the Game: Michael Egnew
Senior All-American tight end Michael Egnew was pretty quiet in Week 1, but he could rip a seam in the Sun Devil defense this week if Missouri exploits the mismatch covering Egnew.
Egnew caught only two passes for 12 yards against Miami (OH). This was partly due to quarterback James Franklin's play, but Egnew didn't do the offense any favors in trying to break coverage.
He's 6'6", 240 pounds essentially playing wide receiver in the Missouri spread offense. So who's responsible for covering him on the Arizona State defense this week? Senior Oliver Aaron, a coverage outside linebacker making his first start against an FBS opponent.
Aaron is known for his cover skills, but he's only 6'0", 208 pounds and lacks big game experience in the starting defense. This is a huge opportunity for the Missouri to target Michael Egnew over the middle and exploit this weakness in the defense.
Michael Egnew boasts a six-inch, 30-pound advantage on his defensive counterpart and it's something the Tigers could utilize on offense.
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If Arizona State is to win this game, they'll have to keep up the intense pass rush they showed last week on defense led by Vontaze Burfict. Offensively, quarterback Brock Osweiler has a big arm and he'll need to use it to attack Missouri's secondary that was penalized four times last week.
For Missouri, if James Franklin can distribute the ball to the team's talented receivers for more production than last week they will score points. Defensively, the defensive line will need to swarm Brock Osweiler and the secondary will need to limit the penalties and make plays on the football.
Both teams are pretty banged up and missing key starters on each side of the football. Arizona State is a seven-point favorite at home and the crowd will be amped up for the game.
I think the Missouri front-seven will prove to be too much for ASU to handle and James Franklin will be good enough to win behind the stronger play of his receivers.
Prediction: Missouri 21, Arizona State 17