Tigers to face 'Blackout' in the desert
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)
Missouri managed to get away with a ho-hum offense and a jittery first-time quarterback in its opener.
Facing its first big test of the season, No. 21 Missouri hopes to have the kinks worked out before playing the hard-hitting Sun Devils on what's expected to be a steamy Friday night in the desert.
''Their defense is playing exceptional. They have some great players and they run well,'' Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. ''It will be a challenge, but we're excited about it.''
Missouri scraped past Miami of Ohio, 17-6, in its opener, despite scoring its fewest points in an opener since 2001. The Tigers didn't generate much of a running game behind a line that was missing two starters and quarterback James Franklin battled nerves in his first start.
Arizona State represents a much bigger challenge - on both sides of the ball.
Led by Burfict, an All-American candidate, the Sun Devils are fast, aggressive, like to see if they can knock their opponents' helmets off. Offensively, Arizona State is a bit tougher to defend than in past years, led by confident quarterback Brock Osweiler, who overcame cramps on a brutally hot night in the opener to throw for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a rout over UC Davis.
This, too, will the Sun Devils' first real test of the season and the biggest game to hit Tempe in a couple of years, so they'll be plenty hyped.
On top of that, the Tigers will be facing a ''Blackout.'' Not the Scorpions song or an electrical failure, but a stadium full of 70,000 or so people dressed in black to match the unveiling of the Sun Devils' intimidating new black uniforms.
''It's a game we've all been looking forward to,'' Osweiler said. ''It brings a little energy to campus.''
Both teams will be limping in.
Arizona State lost starting cornerback Omar Bolden and receiver T.J. Simpson to torn ACLs in the spring, and linebacker Brandon Magee blew out his Achilles' tendon in the preseason. Starting right tackle Aderious Simmons sprained his ankle against UC Davis and may not play against Missouri, and backup safety Ezekiel Bishop is out for the season with an ACL tear.
The Sun Devils also are waiting for the return of running back Deantre Lewis after he was shot in the leg during a random shooting in February.
Missouri may actually have it worse.
Tackle Elvis Fisher, a four-year starter, was lost for the season with a knee injury early in fall camp and center Travis Ruth didn't play against Miami due to an Achilles' tendon injury. Marcus Murphy, part of what was expected to be a four-man rotation at running back, is out for the season due to shoulder surgery and another member of the group, Kendial Lawrence, broke his leg last week.
The injuries, combined with what should be as hostile an environment as the Tigers will see all season, will certainly make this a stiff test, certainly more of one than last week.
''If you want to be good, you have to win games on the road,'' Pinkel said. ''We all know that, so that's the challenge we have.''
After cruising through their opener, the Sun Devils are looking at it the same way facing a ranked team on national television.
Osweiler had his way with UC Davis before leaving in the third quarter with cramps - he's been drinking extra fluids this week - and the Sun Devils rolled up 517 yards of offense. The defense stymied UC Davis all night, holding the Aggies to minus-4 yards rushing before giving up a pair of late scores.
Missouri will be a couple of steps up in competition.
The Tigers have as big and talented a front four as Arizona State will see all season and their linebackers and defensive backs are fast and athletic. Missouri still has that quick-hitting spread offense of Pinkel's that gives defenses fits and Franklin, despite his admitted ''jirttery feet'' in the opener, is the kind a dual threat quarterback who can cause costly hesitations in the minds of defenders.
''I'm anxious and I know our players are anxious to play a game like this early in the season,'' Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. ''Obviously, they've done a lot of good things. We think we have a chance to be pretty good, but we'll know more about us after that football game, no question about it.''
So will the Tigers.