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ASU vs. Missouri: The Sun Devil Keys to the Game

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The Sun Devils are just a few hours away from kickoff in their battle with SEC newcomer Missouri.

Over the week, we've posted our detailed game preview with key match-ups, run our weekly NCAA 13 sim, and held an in-depth Q&A with a Tiger insider Bill Connelly. Now we boil it all down to the keys for a Sun Devil win.

Attack up the middle

Late Friday, word remembered that Missouri's star quarterback James Franklin would be a game-time decision due to shoulder soreness, and that redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser may get the start. This obviously is a huge factor in the game, but not one that should affect the Sun Devil defense's gameplan.

Missouri's offensive line is battered, with left tackle Elvis Fisher and guard Travis Ruth out for the year. This has led to shuffling all along the line. 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.

ASU would be wise to exploit this weakness. Defensive tackle Will Sutton is having a dominant start to the year, and could be a huge factor. Look for ASU to focus more of their attack at these inexperienced players to disrupt both the pass and the run. If indeed it is Berkstresser at quarterback, he provides a traditional pocket passer as opposed to Franklin's mobile threat, and bringing the pass rush at his face up the middle could go a long way into disrupting him.

Hold fast up front

Likewise, ASU must work to keep their own quarterback upright in the face of an aggressive Missouri defensive rush. The Tigers don't utilize their linebackers in the pass rush much, but given the talent on their defensive line, they don't have to.

Defensive end Brad Madison is a terrific pass rusher, and already has three sacks on the year, including two last week against Georgia. He'll match up against right tackle Brice Schwab in a key battle. The interior will also see a tense battle, where talented 295-pound defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson must be handled. Center Kody Koebensky and left guard Jamil Douglas had a great game against Illinois and will need a repeat performance in Columbia.

Quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank are off to a fast start, but are facing a very difficult challenge against a good defense in a hostile environment. Having them battered and harassed by the Tigers is not something ASU's offense can afford to add to that list.

Don't let the speed pass you by

The Missouri offense, as it does every year, has speed, speed and more speed.

In the backfield, they are led by the explosive duo of Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy. Lawrence is the team's start and is averaging over nine yards per carry. Murphy is averaging nearly seven per tote, and showed off his playmaking ability with two punt return touchdowns against Southeastern Louisiana.

At wide receiver, the team has several players that can scorch ASU deep. Marcus Lucas is the team's leading receiver with nine catches for 118 yards, and L'Damian Washington is a burner averaging over 28 yards per reception. The wild card is Dorial Gree-Beckham, the nation's No. 1 overall recruit this year. He's 6-foot-6 with excellent speed, and could be a match-up problem for the Sun Devil secondary.

Stay on target

"Focus is probably the key. I think just the mental aspect of it, and also going into a hostile environment. When you go on road, you have to go in there and have a different level of concentration and focus," Todd Graham said during his weekly press conference.

So far, his team has shown that the discipline issues and self-destructive tendencies that killed the program under Dennis Erickson are a thing of the past...or at least covered up well. The team has yet to face adversity, nor have they played on the road.

Both counts will change of Saturday. How will this team hold up? Can they show the same discipline in SEC country as they have at Sun Devil Stadium? Will they be able to bounce back after a setback?

We'll find out if so, and it will be the difference between 2-1 and 3-0.

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