By Juan Roque for DieHardDevil.com
In American sport, there are many cliches that we use when talking about an event as monumental as winning a close football game in overtime. After Arizona State’s thrilling victory on September 9, 2011 against the Missouri Tigers, phrases like “It was meant to be”, “It was fate” and “It was written in the stars” come to mind. ASU, in the first ever “Black Out”, invested not only time and effort…but emotion into this contest. It was without question the biggest game in many years and it was the first true test for a team that is looking to contend for the Pac-12 Title. After the struggles of other conference schools in week one and a blowout loss by UofA to Oklahoma State on Thursday night, all eyes were now on the black clad Sun Devils. In almost storybook fashion and in front of a nationally televised ESPN home crowd, they found a way to win a game they would have surely lost the year before. Once the Tigers’ fate was sealed and ASU emerged victorious in front of 70,000 fans, those cliche phrases were recited over and over as content fans exited Sun Devil Stadium.
Given how the game unfolded at the end, the phrase that most applies to ASU’s victory is “Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.” The old axiom about celestial electricity was proven incorrect Friday night. With the southern desert night sky illuminated by a monsoon lightning storm and a light rain falling onto the field, the Sun Devils disproved that statement. How? In their case, lightning struck not once or twice, but three times. When Missouri fought back from a 30-16 deficit late in the game, ASU was on its heels and reeling from its inability to keep the Tigers in their cage. Missouri, a team that struggled at home only a week earlier on offense, was moving the ball effectively against the Sun Devil defense. They clawed their way from a 14 point deficit and tied the game with 2:50 left in the 4th Quarter when James Franklin completed a 3 yard touchdown pass to Michael Egnew. With the score locked at 30-30, ASU got the ball and was not able to convert a first down forcing another punt. Missouri, with the momentum in its corner, had a chance defeat the Devils in their packed house.
First Lightning Strike
Missouri, after getting the ball back, found a way to move the ball downfield one last time. They lined up for a potential game winning 48 yard field goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The masses at Sun Devil Stadium held their collective breath as All-American Missouri kicker Grant Ressel, who had already nailed a 47 yard kick earlier in the game, set up. His critical kick had the distance for 3 points but missed going wide left. Still tied at 30, the clock expired and the game was sent to overtime.
Second Lightning Strike
Brock Osweiler marches the Sun Devils into the end zone in the first overtime possession with two great passes; one to Aaron Pflugrad for a first down and then one to Jamal Miles for an 11 yard touchdown. Alex Garoutte’s kick was good, and ASU took the lead 37-30.
Third Lightning Strike
ASU’s defense struggled to stop the Tigers’ offense since halftime. After an emotional and inspirational sideline huddle where the whole team rallied each other, the Sun Devil Defense held Missouri for four straight plays to seal the win. It was a perfect “4 and out.”
Some sayings are meant to be disproved, and we all discovered that lighting can strike in the same place more than twice.
GRADING THE GAME
Brock Osweiler proved why he was so well thought of when he came to ASU three years ago. He played with poise, confidence and efficiency. You cannot ask your starting quarterback to have a better game. Osweiler threw 24 of 32 for 353 yards and 3 touchdowns but the best statistic of all… NO INTERCEPTIONS. He was also effective when he ran the ball gaining 34 net yards on six attempts, converting one for a touchdown. Number 17 is a warrior and leader.
Cameron Marshall grinded and grinded in the first half not gaining a lot of yards but physically wearing down the bigger Missouri defensive linemen. In the second half Marshall was finally able to break a couple of big runs but only netted 65 yards on 22 carries for a below average 2.8 yards per carry. Jamal Miles chipped in with 13 yards on two carries and threw a touchdown pass to Aaron Pflugrad on a perfectly executed trick play. Miles was brilliant out of the backfield in the passing game catching 6 passes for 50 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Kyle Middlebrooks only carried once for a two yard loss. The ground game needs to pick up big time if the team is to compete for a championship.
Nine different Sun Devils caught a pass in this game. Aaron Pflugrad showed his play making ability in big games by being the top producer on the field. He was everywhere and caught everything including the thrilling tailback pass in the southwest endzone that will be remembered for years to come. Pflugrad caught 8 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Gerrel Robinson caught two huge passes for 66 yards and Mike Willie snagged two passes for 22 yards. George Bell caught two passes for 12 yards. Good day at the office for this group.
The group had a good outing despite not having Aderious Simmons in the lineup. Pass blocking was much better than in years past even though one sack was given up on a blitz. Dan Knapp did a great job keeping Brad Madison, the Tigers’ best pass rusher, in check. Madison had two tackles and was never near Osweiler. The interior of the line held against the huge Missouri tackles holding them to only seven tackles, six less than the week before. No defensive lineman was ever in a position to sack Osweiler because this unit sustained their blocks. Once they get their run blocking in synch this unit will be outstanding.
Much improved production from week one. Bo Moos was around the football and recorded only two tackles but he set up other players with his nonstop motor. Corey Adams came off the bench and had a productive game netting three tackles, one for a loss of two yards. He was flagged for roughing the passer but the call was borderline at best. Junior Onyeali had three tackles and came close to getting to James Franklin but was unable to bring him down for a sack. Jammar Jarrett also harassed Franklin and chipped in with two tackles. Toa Tuitea came off the bench and achieved the only sack of the evening on Franklin by the defensive line. This was not a dominant showing or a bad outing either for this talented group. They need to find a way to get more sacks, and they need to do a better job stopping the run. Missouri netted 182 yards on the ground; 82 by James Franklin and 94 by Henry Josey who was not even on the two deep before the season began. This needs to be corrected quickly.
Vontaze Burfict continues to march towards an All American season by recording his fourth sack of the year and five tackles. He was penalized once for holding but had no personal fouls. Teams are doing their best to avoid him yet he still finds ways to constantly get around the football. Oliver Aaron was much improved in this game and contributed four stops. The most surprising player was captain, Colin Parker. The fifth year senior led the Sun Devils in tackles with 11. Shelly Lyons was again quiet and recorded two stops. While the unit as a whole produced much better than week one, they share in the accountability of the Tigers’ 182 rushing yards.
The injury depleted unit had the unenviable task of stopping T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew, Missouri’s top two offensive players. They found a way to keep both players from running wild, but the Tigers succeeded at spreading the ball around and eight different receivers caught the ball. James Franklin, who threw for 127 yards the week before, torched the Sun Devils for 319 yards. Man coverage is an issue and there are huge holes that the opposition has exposed in the Sun Devil zone coverage. Clint Floyd and Eddie Elder played hard from their safety positions; they combined for nine tackles and Edler broke up a pass. Corners Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor just need to develop confidence. Disappointingly, the unit was not able to intercept a pass for the second week in a row.
The return game is strong with Kyle Middlebrooks and Rashad Ross. They combined for 152 return yards that put the offense in great field position. Alex Garroute nailed a 47 yard field goal after missing from 42 but also missed an extra point. He’ll get better but the missed extra points cannot happen. Josh Hubner was impressive in his punting duties averaging 36 yards per punt, and he pinned the Tigers inside their 20 three times. Kickoff coverage is still an issue.
Given some notably injured talent on the roster, the Sun Devils showed their depth and prevailed against a solid Missouri program. This has been one of Arizona State’s goals… to take the blood, sweat and lessons learned from the last-minute defeats to big programs in 2010 and finish off such opponents in 2011. They’ve played just two games, and this was only Brock’s third start. #17 has shown strong qualities of leadership, confidence and performance against a ranked opponent which a team needs to succeed. From a depth standpoint, back-up players are getting valuable experience and learning to think and play like starters. This team has gained a ton of confidence, and they proved their ability to perform in the clutch and close out a big game. While key improvements are necessary, these Devils are capable of being very dangerous and difficult to beat.
Game #3 at Illinois is at 4:00 PST this Saturday, at Memorial Stadium in Champagne, Illinois. Where will you be?
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