Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE
Todd Graham and the Arizona State Sun Devils hope to keep things moving later on when they take on the Missouri Tigers.
By the time kickoff rolls around on Saturday evening in Columbia, Mo., it will have been 371 days since James Franklin's 4th down pass to T.J. Moe skittered incomplete, giving the Arizona State Sun Devils a 37-30 overtime win over the Missouri Tigers at Sun Devil Stadium.
Arizona State's triumph on Sept. 9, 2011, at the time, finally seemed like the signature win that Dennis Erickson needed to steer the team toward a season that would, ultimately, extend his stay in the desert.
What a difference 371 days makes. As the Sun Devils prepare for their return visit to the Midwest and a rematch with the Tigers, the Sun Devils have a new coach, completely new personnel on both sides of the ball and an attitude of discipline that was never present under the old regime. Meanwhile, Missouri is in a completely new conference and is facing a slew of new challenges simply based on that.
Based on these circumstances, these two teams might as well have not even matched up last season. It may end up being one of the more unique wrap-ups to a home-and-home we'll see in some time.
For Todd Graham and the Sun Devils, the chance to get a signature road win this era in his tenure in Tempe is something that fans and the athletic department is something to salivate over. Even including 2007, Erickson's first year at ASU when the team went 10-2, at no point over the past five years can the Sun Devils point to a road victory and say that it mattered.
Certainly, emerging from a home revenge game against Illinois with a decisive 45-14 victory can give CTG and his young squad a measure of happiness. Going to a hostile SEC environment and winning would turn this early season for the Sun Devils, though, from a pleasant surprise to an improbable spot in the top 25.
It will not be black and white, though; Missouri presents a set of challenges that both Northern Arizona and Illinois did not present in ASU's first two games. With NAU being a bottom-of-the-barrel FCS team and the Illini missing their top playmaker in Nathan Scheelhaase, the Sun Devils have not yet an offense that can spring a big play. That ends Saturday, when the inexperienced and paper-thin ASU secondary goes up against wide receivers Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington, not to mention an explosive running back in Kendial Lawrence.
However, it's unknown whether James Franklin will suit up, which could give Arizona State another much-needed boost for the second straight week. Corbin Berkstresser is up next here and doesn't have much seasoning. Could Arizona State strike gold twice with opposing quarterback injury luck?
Granted, one of Missouri's games was against North-South-West-Eastern Directional Louisiana, but when coupled with the two long scores the Tigers posted against Georgia last week, the Tigers already have a staggering five touchdown plays of more than 40 yards. That includes two 70+ yard punt return TD's from Marcus Murphy, a 76-yard touchdown scamper by Lawrence and an electrifying catch and run by Washington last week.
By comparison, Arizona State has only given up two plays of more than 20 yards all season - both on runs by Miles Osei and Josh Ferguson last week - but there's hesitation in giving the Devils' defense credit for that based on the stripped-down offenses they've faced.
I don't have much down that Arizona State's defensive front will be able to get some pressure on Franklin and the Tigers' backfield, even with the massive beef that Missouri puts on the line, but the back seven should be ready for a enormous test. Already down several key players, including all-of-a-sudden freshman revelation Carlos Mendoza, Arizona State's secondary could be susceptible. Doug Haller of AZCentral Sports says that linebacker Brandon Magee, the unquestioned leader of the defense who missed the Illinois win with reported concussion symptoms, is "motivated" to be back, but if he can't go, the Devils will at times have to rely on third-string linebacker Grandville Taylor to take major reps.
Meanwhile, with Graham and his offensive staff seemingly unwilling to throw the ball downfield, considering the youth at quarterback with Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank and inexperience at all levels at wide receiver, the Devils will once again have to predicate their offense on the run.
It's not that Arizona State, by any means, doesn't have the workhorses to get this done. Cameron Marshall and freshman D.J. Foster have proven themselves very able to move the ball quite nicely on the ground, but once again, they haven't faced a defense as big or imposing as Missouri's.
Against Georgia, the Tigers defense limited the Bulldogs rushing attack to just 3.2 yards per carry. With guys like Sheldon Richardson (6'4', 295) and Matt Hoch (6'5", 300) right up the middle, getting the Sun Devils' speedy rushers around corners will be key. But even then, the guys in the middle for Missouri - the likes of Will Ebner and Andrew Wilson, are heady, quick players who get to the ball well. As Chris Karpman from ASUDevils.com told us on The Devils' Roundtable, our weekly web show, earlier this week, gap integrity for the ASU offensive line will be a key if the Sun Devils want to snag a victory.
This is undoubtedly a major test for this young ASU team early on. This is a different team, though, than the one that went to Illinois last season, turned the ball over three times and racked up nearly 100 yards in penalties.
This is Todd Graham's team now, and it'll certainly be interesting, if nothing else, to see how his team comes out in an early road test.