For the first two weeks of the season, all the House of Sparky game ball awards stayed in Tempe, as the team started a dominant 2-0. Everyone familiar with this column knows that Missouri in the headlines cannot be good news.
The Tigers defeated the Sun Devils 24-20, despite a 13-0 fourth quarter rally. Now, I am forced to be a non-biased journalist, by dishing out some props to Mizzou. However, ASU did battle tough, the effort did not result in a win, but got some positive recognition.
Missouri's cornerback E.J. Gaines was a first-team All-Big-12 performer last season, and is on pace to be a first-team All-SEC player in 2012. Elite cover guys are hard to find, but Gaines is exactly that. Gaines essentially took away half the field every down.
The two interceptions Mizzou had were made by Kip Edwards and Kenronte Walker. Each time it showed Taylor Kelly's refusal to attack Gaines—basically the Champ Bailey and Darrelle Revis effect. No ASU wide receiver surpassed 25 yards, partly because the unit has been awful yet also due to Gaines excellent marking skills.
Star players players tend to be in the right place at the right time and Gaines is no exception. ASU's All-American-caliber returner Jamal Miles muffed a punt, ending up with Gaines on the recovery.
Gaines impact went beyond defense, generating a game-changing punt return of 44 yards in the second quarter. The play set Mizzou up with an easy touchdown, extending the lead to 17-0 midway through two quarters. It was apparent that Gaines continues to be a defensive dictator.
Without dynamic quarterback James Franklin, Missouri had the tough task of beating a hot Sun Devil club. Tiger head coach Gary Pinkel rose to the challenge, limiting ASU's offense to only 20 points.
A high-scoring game was not in Mizzou's favor because of Franklin's absence. Pinkel knew good defense would be the X-factor, and accomplishing the unthinkable...rattle Taylor Kelly.
Pinkel got Kelly to cough up the rock three times, providing ample opportunities for his Mizzou offense to score. The strategy by Pinkle was as follows: bring pressure up front and force the mediocre ASU wide outs to beat their phenomenal secondary.
The game plan Pinkel came up with lead him to earn our clever coaching honors.
The Big Ben Roethlisberger
ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly reminded me of Ben Roethlisberger by extending plays. On numerous occasions, Kelly looked dead in the water. Rather than taking sacks, he turned them into huge plays by dodging pressure.
"He made a couple plays that most guys could never make," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said about Kelly in his post-game press conference.
Sure Kelly would love to have the game-ending interception back, but ASU would never have gotten a game winning chance without his heroics.
The Sun Devil faithful have to remember this was Kelly's first road start. Kelly failed to "own the ball" but displayed great play making ability. Sometimes it meant stiff-arming defenders to pass downfield, while other times it was producing crafty positive runs out of nothing.
Senior year is often viewed as a joke, time to kick back and relax before the real world begins. Many find themselves over school and looking towards their future before the present has ended.
Brandon Magee is the anti-senioritis, stringing together his best performances for an extraordinary closing act. ASU students may not know Magee has never drank or used illegal drugs, something few can say. Magee does everything the right way off the field, and rarely messes up on the field.
After missing the Illinois game with concussion symptoms, the captain linebacker stepped right back into the middle of ASU's defense. Magee picked off Mizzou quarterback Corbin Berkstresser, keeping the Sun Devils hopes in tact. That interception was Magee's second in his two games played, which is nice ratio to sport.
Special teams and offensive mistakes hurt ASU big time, putting the defense in horrible situations. Magee simply went about his business, leading the team with 12 tackles and 1.5 for loss.