Through two games ASU has accomplished a lot in going 2-0, establishing a fluid quarterback situation, and having head coach Todd Graham's disciplined mentality pay off. Therefore, my pre-season checklist of things I wanted to see from the Sun Devils is shrinking rapidly.
However, one glaring issue still needs to be solved: winning on the road. Over the last three seasons, ASU is 4-12 beyond the confines of Sun Devil stadium. This week's contest at Missouri will be one of the three toughest games on ASU's schedule.
This difficult nationally televised contest presents ample opportunity to prove ASU is legit, yet a bad loss could embarrass Sun Devil nation more than Kyle Williams in the NFL playoffs.
Mizzou quarterback James Franklin is the face of the Tiger program. To put it into perspective, I believe Franklin is the second best quarterback ASU will face all year.
Last year's matchup between the Sun Devils and Tigers was a nail bitter, resulting in a 37-30 overtime win for ASU. Revenge will be a factor, as Mizzou wants to retaliate badly, and regain traction after losing to Georgia.
Just like last year, a win over Mizzou could catapult ASU into the Top 25. Listed below are my easier-said-than-done guidelines for ASU to leave Missouri 3-0.
#1 Win the Turnover Battle
ASU has to play much better to win at Mizzou. The Devils average 54 points-per-game, but continue to leave great chances on the gridiron. For example, last week running back Cameron Marshall fumbled on Illinois one-yard line. When events like that happen on the road, let alone versus an explosive offense like Mizzou, they will make you pay.
Turnovers are game changing plays, resulting in the home crowd going wild. Despite coach Todd Graham demanding a high-octane team, he does not mind punting. The reason being, punting essentially is fighting, yet turnovers are giving. Make Mizzou win the game, not ASU lose the game.
By all means, Mizzou is capable of winning, but their job is much tougher without assistance. In ASU's first two games, they have won the turnover battle, and we all know how those games have turned out. The two corresponding stats are not a coincidence.
ASU quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank are proving to be valuable assets rather than a weakness. However, neither has any experience starting a road game. This is no ordinary away battle; it is in SEC country, where the Devils are 0-3 lifetime against the conference.
Missouri's offense rarely gets stopped; the best way to beat them is forcing mistakes. At the end of the first quarter against No. 7 Georgia, it was knotted at zeros. To start the second quarter, Mizzou marched on an 11-play, 47-yard drive to take the lead, but they soon fumbled. ASU needs to have the same approach, searching for strips and jumping passing lines.
Expecting ASU to play completely clean football is a nice goal, but more realistically the Sun Devil Faithful hopes for no more than one turnover. If ASU has one or less turnovers, they will be in prime position to win.
#2 Make Missouri Running Backs Gain Yards
Daring Missouri backs to run is a dangerous task, but a risk that should be taken. Franklin is a dynamic player, requiring extra corners and safety to worry about the pass. Tigers senior starting running back Kendial Lawrence has been phenomenal so far, sporting 162 yards and two touchdowns.
I respect Lawrence's ability, but Mizzou wants to air it out or run with Franklin. ASU defensive ends need to contain, limiting Franklin's running ability. Devilbacker Carl Bradford will also be key in marking Franklins every footstep.
Mizzou knows their strength, passing 41 times and running only 14. Yes, the stats are slightly skewed because of the scoreboard, but Franklin is not only the best passer on roster, he is the best runner.
Missouri essentially has to run with their tailbacks when ASU plays consistent coverage off the line of scrimmage. Franklin's decision would be made for him, checking to hand off to Lawrence and company. Although the Sun Devils task of stopping the run will be difficult without as much linebacker help, good defensive line play can solve the problem.
ASU's front three or four are nasty. Will Sutton requires two offensive linemen, otherwise he is in the backfield. Mike Pennel will also be a factor after returning from suspension. At 6-foot-5 and 355 pounds, size and talent are not a problem. Defensive coordinator Paul Randolph stated about Pennel "I think he'll play extremely well this week, based on his preparation." Pennel's play is literally a huge x-factor.
The overall concept of my theory is, getting the ball out of Franklin's hands is ideal.
#3 ASU Receivers Need To Get Open More Often
Tight end/3-back Chris Coyle has been the glue of ASU's receiving group. Coyle currently has 12 receptions for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
The wide receiver issues haven't been answered, with only 15 receptions from the unit collectively through two games. Kevin Ozier and Richard Smith lead the way with five receptions each, which is completely unacceptable.
Rashad Ross' impressive summer camp earned him a spot in the starting offense, but only has one reception so far. Despite how good the quarterback's play, if receivers do not get open, nothing can happen in the air. Explosive plays will be practically inexistent unless playmakers create throwing lanes for Kelly.
Mizzou may elect to double Coyle, challenging ASU receivers to win their respective matchups. Tiger corner E.J. Gaines is one of the best at his position in the nation, complemented by a very capable Kip Edwards. Beating that duo is tough for anybody.
ASU receivers may not see a better cornerback tandem all season. On the contrary, the offense wins every snap with a perfect throw and route. It will take precise plays and cuts by the Sun Devil receivers to hit open turf.
If ASU runs mediocre patterns, it causes Kelly and Eubank to dart in tiny wholes that will result in picks. The Devils wide receivers need to wake up and step up.
Prediction Time: Missouri over ASU 34-27