Tempe, AZ – There are plenty of rumors swirling around about 12, so it is only fitting that the ranked Missouri Tigers will head west this Friday to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium.
Missouri had a much tougher time than expected in its opener, as the Tigers narrowly defeated Miami-Ohio, 17-6, at home. This is the 11th season for Gary Pinkel as the head coach for the Tigers, and since taking over at Missouri Pinkel has turned this program into a force. Missouri, which claimed 10 victories a year, has totaled 40 wins and three division titles in the last four seasons. The Tigers have also participated in a school-record six straight bowl games.
As for the Sun Devils, they won their ninth straight season-opening matchup with a convincing 48-14 decision over UC Davis. It was also the 12th consecutive season-opening win at home, pushing the program's record in those games to 50-15-1. It was the fifth straight win for coach Dennis Erickson in ASU openers, but the coach is looking to lead his Sun Devils to a winning campaign for the first time since 2007. In a side note, the Sun Devils will debut their all black uniforms Friday, and the school has asked fans to wear black as well, making it a "Black Out" game.
The first time these two schools collided on the gridiron was in the 1972 Fiesta Bowl. Arizona State won that game by 14 points, but after that Missouri posted wins in three of the next four showdowns. However, the most recent meeting was in 1990, and even though the Tigers clawed out a 30-9 victory, plenty has changed over the past 21 years.
Replacing Blaine Gabbert was on the top of the list for coach Pinkel in the offseason, and he has settled in on James Franklin to be the team's starting quarterback in 2011. The Tigers opened the year with a win, but Franklin felt he underachieved in his debut.
"I just think a win's a win and it's something I have to learn to enjoy," Franklin said. "There's things that I'm worried about and things that I'm focused on that I didn't do so well."
Franklin might be his toughest critic because the sophomore quarterback was solid in some areas. Outside of his interception that led to Miami's lone score, Franklin completed 17-of-26 passes for 129 yards and one score. More importantly the signal caller led the rushing attack with 72 yards and another touchdown. Henry Josey added 43 yards for Missouri, which as a whole gashed Miami-Ohio for 162 yards on 37 carries. However the backfield has lost a little depth with the loss of junior RB Kendial Lawrence, who will miss four to six weeks after breaking his leg in the win over Miami-Ohio.
Franklin is clearly a dual threat, but for Missouri to be successful this Friday he is going to have to improve as a passer and learn to spread the ball around. Michael Egnew, who had 90 catches a year ago, finished the opener with just 12 yards on two receptions.
The Tigers were able to overcome Franklin's jitters thanks to a fierce defensive approach that held Miami-Ohio to just six points. Last year Missouri limited the opposition to just 16.1 ppg, and although it was just one game, this unit seems to have the talent to come close to that number once again.
Missouri did an excellent job against the run, limiting the RedHawks to just 76 yards on 36 carries. Overall Missouri held Miami-Ohio to just 270 yards in total offense, and also forced two turnovers.
However, not everything went well for the Tigers, who saw two key defensive players go down. Linebacker Will Ebner suffered a high ankle sprain, while defensive end Jacquies Smith dislocated his left elbow. Both players will likely miss Friday's game.
After struggling to produce points during the 2008 and 2009 campaigns, the Sun Devils exploded last year by averaging over 30.0 ppg. If the team's opener is any indication than ASU should enjoy another fruitful season in terms of offensive production.
Everything seemed to work for the Sun Devils, and granted they were facing UC Davis which is not a FBS program, but nonetheless it was a strong debut. Eight different players had at least one carry for ASU which racked up 217 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Two scores came from Cameron Marshall, but the starting tailback finished with just 23 yards on seven totes. True freshman Kyle Middlebrooks led the way with 62 yards in the win.
Marshall feels the reason the team had so much success on the ground was because of the offensive line, which was creating gaping holes.
"The first couple of times I got the ball there were huge holes out there," said Marshall. "The offensive line did their thing out there, they did a really good job."
Brock Osweiler has the same sentiment towards the front line, as the quarterback enjoyed plenty of protection en route to a strong showing.
"Those guys were awesome," said Osweiler. "Like I said going into this first game, this group has a lot of experience and has worked extremely hard in the off-season. There are no other five guys I would take into battle. I thank them for their efforts tonight. They played a great game."
The veteran quarterback threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns in the win, and was not sacked. However, he had to leave the game earlier than expected because of cramping.
Both of his touchdown passes went to Aaron Pflugrad, who finished with 50 yards on three receptions. Leading the way though was Marshall as he racked up 86 yards on four catches.
Coming into the 2011 season some felt Arizona State's linebacker Vontaze Burfict would contend for the conference's Defensive Player of the Year award, and the veteran did not disappoint in the opener, racking up three sacks.
As a whole the defense flexed its muscles against a much weaker UC Davis team, and held the Aggies to just 243 total yards and only 14 points, and both scores came in the final quarter. ASU has been tough against the run over the past couple of seasons and that did not change in the team's opener, as the Sun Devils held UC Davis to just 88 yards on 3.4 yards per carry.
Colin Parker, who had five tackles in the win, felt the starters did a tremendous job right out of the gate, but there were some minor mistakes that can be fixed by Friday's game.
"Our first unit came out early on in the game and played really well," said Parker. "We had some minor issues later on - they scored both touchdowns in the second half. Overall, it was a good first game but we ���re going to have to make some corrections for next week."