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ASU vs. Missouri: Game Preview, Key Match-Ups, Prediction and More

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Arizona State (2-0, 0-0) at Missouri (1-1, 0-1)

Kickoff: 4:00 p.m. PST / 7:00 p.m. EST

Location: Memorial Stadium, Columbia, MO

Point Spread: ASU +5.5 (Opened at ASU +7.5)

TV / Radio: ESPN2 / 92.3 FM

Weather Forecast: Mid 70s, partly cloudy with 10% chance of rain

ASU Uniforms: Likely white-white-maroon

Key Injuries: ASU - DT Corey Adams (out), LB Carlos Mendoza (out). Missouri - LT Elvis Fisher (out), RB Henry Josey (out), LB Zaviar Gooden (out), LG Travis Ruth (out), RG Jack Meiners (questionable)

Series History: This is the seventh meeting between the Sun Devils and Tigers, with the series tied at 3-3. Last year, ASU beat Missouri 37-30 in overtime, but prior to that, the teams had not met since 1990. Their biggest match-up came in the 1972 Fiesta Bowl, with Danny White and Woody Green leading a wild 49-35 Sun Devil win.

Missouri Last Week: In their first SEC game since joining the conference, Missouri hosted Georgia last Saturday. After a sluggish start, the Tigers took a 17-9 lead early in the third quarter, thanks to two James Franklin touchdown passes. However, the Missouri defense collapsed over the final 16 minutes, as Georgia scored 24 unanswered to win 41-20.

ASU on Offense: Who predicted Taylor Kelly would be the nation's seventh most efficient passer after Week 2? No you didn't. No one did. Yet that's where the redshirt sophomore ranks after another impressive performance against Illinois. He's thrown for 496 yards and two touchdowns while completing 76.7% of his passes, and most importantly, hasn't turned the ball over. He'll see the bulk of the load while Michael Eubank sees time in spots. Eubank showed improvement in his passing last week with a pair of touchdown passes and a highlight-reel scoring run.

The Sun Devil running game will face a stiff challenge against an aggressive Missouri front seven that operates out of a base 4-3 scheme. Cameron Marshall is off to a slow start, despite his three touchdowns. Despite leading the team with 21 carries, he's fifth with just 66 yards, but most alarmingly, he's fumbled twice. He's much too talented to continue to struggle for long, and the team will need a return to form from him on Saturday. The dynamic D.J. Foster has settled into the number two role, and also sees plenty of action in the passing game. Marion Grice, who saw just two carries after his 107-yard, three-touchdown opening day performance, could be in line for more action this week. The Tigers allowed just 3.2 yards-per-carry to Georgia last week, and a highly athletic linebacking corps, even without starter Zaviar Goodman, flies to the ball and envelops ballcarriers very well.

3-back Chris Coyle has emerged as the team's top target, but the wide receivers have yet to make an impact, and should they continue to be non-factors, defenses will soon focus on and neutralize Coyle. Jamal Miles, J.J. Holliday, Rashad Ross and company will have a tough time finding openings in Missouri's experienced secondary, led by the cornerback tandem of E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards. This may be a game where the underneath routes of Kevin Ozier and Richard Smith could be a large factor.

The Sun Devils' biggest challenge will come up front, where their offensive line, coming off a very impressive effort against Illinois, will need to repel and push back a ferocious Tiger defensive line. Talented defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson will provide a very tough test for the interior ASU lineman in the run game. Missouri doesn't blitz much, so their pass rush primarily comes from their line. End Brad Madison is a true stud, while Kony Ealy and Michael Sam are very capable pass rushers in their own right. It will be a long day in Columbia if ASU can't keep their quarterbacks upright in the face of the Tiger rush.

Key Match-ups:

  • RT Brice Schwab vs LDE Brad Madison: It seems that Missouri always has an elite pass rusher or two, and they continue that streak with senior Brad Madison. The 265-pounder can beat tackles with speed, moves or strength, and can shut down the ASU passing game with his pressure. Schwab will have his hands full in repelling Madison, but it's a task he must be equal to for ASU to stay competitive.
  • RB Cameron Marshall vs. MLB Will Ebner: On the road with quarterbacks seeing their first action in a hostile environment, ASU is going to want to run. The Tiger front seven is excellent in shutting down opponent's ground games, led by Ebner, a blue collar ball hawk.
  • WR Jamal Miles vs. CB E.J. Gaines: Through two games, the ASU wide receivers have yet to make a noticeable mark on the offense. That needs to change, and their most talented playmaker Miles must begin to emerge. Gaines has developed into one of the best cornerbacks in the nation, and will likely draw the assignment on Miles frequently.
  • 3-back Chris Coyle vs. SS Kenronte Walker: Coyle looks to parlay the success of his breakout game against Illinois into a spot among the top pass catchers in the Pac-12. Walker, Missouri's very talented senior strong safety will be giving up three inches and 20 pounds to Coyle, but his athleticism should allow him to make this a hard fought battle.

ASU on Defense: It's a good thing that the Sun Devil defense has been practicing against their high-octane offense, because this Missouri offense is fast. The Tigers run an explosive, four-wide spread scheme that can attack in a number of ways.

It all revolves around junior quarterback James Franklin, a dynamic 6-foot-2, 228 pounder who, unlike many other dangerous running quarterbacks, can also beat teams with his arm. ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph told us that, "We have to treat him like he's a pocket quarterback and is going to drop back and throw the football. We've got to be able to pressure him and impact him."

Pressuring Franklin will be essential. The Sun Devil linebackers must be diligent in their contain to limit his running, and the secondary must maintain their coverage due to Franklin's ability to extend plays. Such is Franklin's talent that it's a situation of limiting his damage, rather than trying to stop it.

Perhaps the biggest single key in the game on either side is Missouri's offensive line. Their best player, left tackle Elvis Fisher was injured against Georgia and will miss four weeks. That injury forced a major realignment along the line, and with starting left guard Travis Ruth out and right guard Jack Meiners in question, this is a major opportunity for the ASU defense to attack and disrupt the Tiger offense before their speed can become a danger.

Missouri always seems to have a stable of fast running backs, and they have a dangerous duo this year, even with starter Henry Josey having been knocked out for the year during the offseason. Kendial Lawrence is the starter, and is averaging over nine yards per carry, and back-up Marcus Murphy is averaging close to seven. Both are extremely quick, and must not be allowed to get into space. The return of ASU weakside linebacker Brandon Magee will be a big boost for ASU's run defense.

The Sun Devil secondary will be facing a major challenge in limiting the Tiger wide receivers. T.J. Moe is a master of the underneath routes, while L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas are speedsters who can take it the distance on every play. The most intriguing player is the nation's No. 1 overall 2012 recruit, Dorial Green-Beckham. The 6-foot-6 Green-Beckham also adds great speed to his package, and while his production to date has been minimal, he is capable of a breakout game. Safeties Alden Darby and Keelan Johnson have been excellent thus far, and must ensure that the fast Tigers don't get behind them downfield.

Key Match-ups

  • SPUR Chris Young vs. QB James Franklin: Franklin can be a one-man wrecking crew both in the pocket and outside, and to counter his ability is Young. The juco transfer has already emerged as ASU's most versatile and disruptive defender, registering five tackles-for-loss in two games. His range, sure tackling and closing speed make him an ideal weapon to shadow and attempt to limit Franklin.
  • DT Will Sutton vs. Missouri's interior OL: As mentioned above, the Tiger offensive line is in disarray, and the interior is ripe for the picking. Regular center Mitch Morse moved to right tackle, leaving center duties to Brad McNulty, who will be making his first career start, and true freshman Evan Boehm will start at left guard. This could be another huge game for Sutton, who is finally playing to his vast potential. with two sacks and four tackles-for-loss.
  • DE Junior Onyeali vs. LT Justin Britt: Filling in for the injured Fisher is regular right tackle Britt, who has prototypical tackle size and some experience on the left side. Onyeali is having a good start to the season with a sack and 2.5 tackles-for-loss, and has the speed to get to Franklin if he can get past a blocker.
  • CB Deveron Carr vs. WR Marcus Lucas: Lucas has a great blend of size (6-foot-5) and speed, and leads the team with nine receptions and 118 yards. ASU will likely counter him with Carr, who while having good size (6-foot) and speed of his own, still gives up five inches to Lucas. Carr and the secondary have done well thus far, but Lucas and the Tiger receivers will provide the toughest challenge yet.

Special Teams: With ASU's dominance through the first two games, the return units haven't gotten a lot of work and have been less that great when they have. Jamal Miles is always a lethal threat, but Missouri may opt to kick away from the deadly senior.

Kicker Alex Garoutte finally got a field goal try last week, converting from 35 yards, but he still has yet to prove he has moved past last year's struggles. Punter Josh Hubner continues to impress, pinning three inside the 20 and forcing two fair catches.

Like Miles, running back Marcus Murphy is a deadly punt returner, having returned two for touchdowns in the Tigers' opener. Murphy and wide receiver T.J. Moe are the team's primary kickoff returners.

Missouri has a new kicker in Andrew Baggett, who has made two of his three field goals, with his miss coming from 43 yards. Trey Barrow returns as an above average punter capable of pinning the ball deep.

ASU's To Do List:

  • Hold back the Missouri defensive line and protect their quarterbacks
  • Keep Franklin in the pocket
  • Take advantage of Missouri's offensive line woes and make plays in the Tiger backfield
  • Keep the speedy Tiger playmakers in front and make sure tackles
  • Maintain focus and do not commit any major mistakes

What It All Means: Like many big games in recent years, ASU has the talent to line up and win this game. Unlike in those games, they also appear to have the discipline and focus to follow through. This will be a major test for the Sun Devils against a very fast, very talented Missouri team. This should be a hard fought, closely contested game, and while ASU can certainly win this game if they play mistake-free, Missouri should be able to escape with a win. However, the performance the Sun Devils put forth and lessons learned here should pay promising dividends in the near future.

Prediction: Missouri 27-24

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