September 7, 2011
By Juan Roque
This Friday at 7:30 PM, ARIZONA STATE will storm onto Frank Kush Field inside Sun Devil Stadium in their new “All Black” uniforms in a nationally televised game on ESPN. There has been a lot of focus and hype surrounding this game during the off season, and the debut of this new sinister attire. The anticipation has been huge this week on campus and throughout Sun Devil Nation. Fans will be wearing black and even though the game time temperature on the field will be over 100 degrees, the mood in Sun Devil Stadium is sure to be electric and festive.
It has been a long time since ARIZONA STATE has had this significant of a match up so early in the season. The Missouri Tigers, or Mizzou, come into Tempe still ranked #21 in the AP Poll and coming off of a 17-6 home Win against a surly and tenacious Miami of Ohio team. The Tigers were sloppy at times in that game, so they will be looking to make a statement this week on the road that they are worthy of their ranking and national respect. ASU took care of business last week in their first home game of the season against an overmatched UC Davis team 48-14 at home. Both teams are in the hunt to compete for their division titles and possibly the conference title. All the ingredients are there for an instant classic college football game.
Unfortunately for both teams, the injury bug bit hard in week one. The Tigers and Sun Devils came away with significant injuries in key positions. Mizzou lost linebacker Joe Ebner to a sprained ankle and defensive end Jacquies Smith to a dislocated elbow. Both players were starters on a defense that was expected to carry the team while they break in a new quarterback. ASU lost tackle Aderious Simmons and defensive back Ezekiel Bishop. Bishop will be lost for the year with a torn ACL. He joins other ailing Sun Devils on defense including playmakers, Devon Spann, Omar Bolden and Brandon Magee. This was another blow to an already decimated Sun Devil secondary. Back-up defensive players must prove themselves and work together to succeed moving forward. Simmons, who sprained an ankle and was helped off the field against the Aggies, is week to week and could possibly see some back up time on Friday.
Meet Mizzou’s Offense
The Tigers have big play makers on offense. They run a version of the spread attack very similar to ASU’s Noel Mazzone. They like the mid range passing patterns, can attack over the middle or on the edges deep with their speed players. They employ multiple receiver sets just like ASU. In the ground attack, they like to pull linemen and have them lead block for Mizzou tailbacks because they do not use a fullback in their offense. The Mizzou offensive line is huge and they boast a potential All-American player on the right side with senior tackle Dan Hoch who is 6’7” and weighs 320 pounds.
The primary challenge for the Tigers have is replacing a star quarterback. Blaine Gabbert was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round of this year’s draft. In comes sophomore James Franklin. Although he is not experienced he is a very athletic young man and can run like a tailback. Against Miami of Ohio the shifty first year starter ran for 76 yards and a touchdown. His passing game is where he needs to improve as he threw for a paltry 123 yards last week. He was erratic at times, hurried his throws and was too quick to run the ball rather than finish his reads. One thing is for certain- Franklin can break for huge runs if he gets space, and has decent vision in seeing those gaps open up during a play.
Although they did not produce much in game one according to their past statistics, the two biggest playmakers the Tigers have on offense are wide receiver T.J. Moe and returning Consensus All-American and 2010 Team MVP, Michael Egnew. Moe is a receiver that is similar to ASU’s Aaron Pflugrad. He is a very disciplined rout runner and finds a way to get separation from his defender to snag passes that are thrown his way. Last year he was Gabbert’s favorite target in amassing 1092 receiving yards. Egnew is listed as a tight end but is most dangerous out of the slot and is projected to be a first round draft pick in 2012. He is big, has soft hands and uses his height well against smaller defensive backs. Once he catches the ball he is strong enough to thwart would-be tacklers and break for a big gain or a score.
How ASU’s Defense Matches Up
The one issue that needs to be addressed is how ASU, with limited numbers in the defensive secondary, will defend Mizzou’s multiple receiver sets. The Tigers have several fast players besides Moe and Egnew and will need to be able to account for them at all times. Look for ASU to use multiple zone coverage schemes in this game to make up for lack of depth. One thing the defensive backs will need to do this week is play disciplined football in reading their keys. They absolutely have to play the Tigers honest to avoid giving up the big play.
The defensive line this week is where the game will be most critical. ASU needs to pressure James Franklin on every snap and find ways to make him one dimensional. The Sun Devil’s interior of Will Sutton and Bo Moos will have to push the pocket and get James Franklin to move laterally and abort his reads. This will allow ASU ends Junior Onyeali and Jamar Jarrett to get to Franklin from the edges and either flush him out of the pocket or drop him for sacks. Mo Latu will also be making his Sun Devil debut and adding solid size to the defensive front. The huge Mizzou offensive line may have trouble with ASU’s faster and more athletic ends, but do not expect them to back off. This will be a four quarter game in the trenches.
The linebacker corps will be challenged as well, especially Shelly Lyons and Oliver Aaron on the edges. They will have to do a great job of knowing when to cover, when to attack and when to contain. Vontaze Burfict will no doubt be assigned to attack James Franklin as he likes to run with the ball. The Tigers will not have their quarterback long though if Burfict does what he does best which is knock opposing players senseless with his bone crushing hits. Burfict and the defensive line will be one of the keys to an ASU Win. They must find a way to attack Franklin and make him a non-factor in this game. They will do this by making him rely on his arm.
Meet Mizzou’s Defense
The Tigers suffered two huge injuries last week against Miami of Ohio. Starting linebacker Will Ebner and defensive end Jacquies Smith will not play Friday, but there are other players that can step up for the Tigers. Defensive back, Kip Epner returns at the right time for the Tigers’ defense.
On the defensive line the player to watch is defensive end Brad Madison. He is a very active player who recorded two sacks and two tackles for loss last week. The interior of their front line is huge. Both tackles are in the 300 pound range and combined for 13 tackles last week. The Tigers will be starting a sophomore in place of the injured Smith.
The linebacker unit is experienced and productive. Even with the loss of Exner, the Tiger linebackers picked up the slack. Andrew Wilson, who replaced Ebner, showed his ability to make plays by netting ten tackles. Zaviar Gooden and Luke Lambert were also effective by combining for nine tackles last week.
In the secondary Kip Edwards returns from injury and will start at cornerback opposite E.J. Gaines, the Tigers’ best secondary player. Gaines can cover, support the run and attack the ball. He had a huge interception in the game last week that stopped a potential Redhawk scoring drive. Gaines is not tall but makes up for his lack of height by playing smart and not getting out of position. Safety Kenji Jackson is a great support player who can cover the pass and step up and make tackles against the run.
How ASU’s Offense Matches Up
This is going to be a game that is won and lost in the trenches. The Tigers have two huge interior players that will test Andrew Sampson, Mike Marcisz and Garth Gerhart. On the edges ASU tackles Dan Knapp and Evan Finkenberg will need to account for Brad Madison who is a relentless pass rusher. To win, ARIZONA STATE’s offensive line will need to play near flawless football in protecting Brock Osweiller. They need to find ways to gash them in the running game and wear them out in the house of heat.
Brock Osweiler will need to make sound decisions against the ball hawking Tigers and deliver the football to where only his receivers can catch it. Expect the Tigers to use trickery by disguising their coverage and using the blitz to get pressure. If Brock plays smart and avoids giving the Tigers any cheap opportunities through turnovers, the Sun Devil offence can press the tempo and keep Missouri players on their heels.
Cameron Marshall and Kyle Middlebrooks must have a great night running the ball in order to keep the Tigers “in the box” and respect ASU’s ground game. By delivering a strong running attack Friday night, Missouri will struggle to cover the potent ASU receiving corps. Gerrell Robinson, Mike Willie, George Bell and Aaron Pflugrad can do some real damage and put many points on the board.
This is a huge game with all the ingredients of an instant classic. ARIZONA STATE and Missouri boast exceptional talent in many areas of the field, and both teams can move the ball and score points. The team that secures the football and forces the other into mistakes will earn the Win. ASU is prepared to be that team. Be in Black with Sun Devil Nation & with your Team tonight.
Are You? Prove it.
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