The Edge: Sun Devils’ defense tips scales

Quarterback

Junior quarterback Brock Osweiler looked sharp in the ASU football team’s 48-14 win in the regular season opener last week against UC Davis.

Osweiler, who was making his first career start at Sun Devil Stadium, quickly drove the offense drove field for a touchdown in the team’s first possession. He would finish 19-26 with 262 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

The Tigers will counter with sophomore quarterback James Franklin. He assumes the role of starting signal caller after former starter Blaine Gabbert departed for the NFL.

Franklin displayed a stealthy ability to make things happen on the ground last Saturday against Miami (Ohio). He collected 201 total yards including one rushing and one passing touchdown. Franklin posted a 17-26 mark, but totaled just 129 passing yards.

EDGE: ASU

 

Running Back

Junior running back Cameron Marshall stole the show early on against the Aggies. On the first drive alone he powered his way into the end zone for ASU’s first touchdown of 2011. He finished with seven carries for 23 yards and a pair of scores in the game.

The dynamic Marshall is not only a threat on the ground, but can be a formidable target for Osweiler through the air. Marshall reeled in four passes for 86 yards last week.

Sophomore Kyle Middlebrooks has proven to be more than capable of providing a game-altering play. He led the Sun Devil offense in rushing against the Aggies by bolting for 62 yards.

Meanwhile, UM’s main menace on the ground is Franklin. However, the Tigers will be without junior tailback Kendial Lawrence, who suffered a broken fibula this week.

Lawrence averaged just 1.1 yards per carry in the season opener, but enjoyed a career year in 2010. He ran for 422 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore.

Sophomore tailback Henry Josey provides another strong option on the ground.

Josey is coming off an impressive freshman campaign in which he took home team freshman of the year honors. Josey’s 437 rushing yards last season placed him second on the team while he averaged 5.8 yards per carry.

EDGE: ASU

 

Wide Receiver/ Tight End

It didn’t take long for the Sun Devils to showcase their immense offensive talent against UC Davis. ASU jumped out to a 41-0 lead and orchestrated two touchdown drives in less than 1:10 of the first quarter.

Additionally, 12 different receivers caught passes in the game.

Senior wide receiver Gerell Robinson caught four passes for 48 yards including a 23-yard grab in the season opener. Senior wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad added three catches of his own for 50 yards and two touchdowns. He caught two touchdowns in all of the 2010 season.

For the Tigers, junior wide receiver T.J. Moe was the leading receiver against the Redhawks.  He amassed six catches for 56 yards and 100 all-purpose yards.

Senior wide receiver Wes Kemp collected 24 receiving yards, and junior wide receiver Marcus Lucas caught UM’s only touchdown pass of week one.

The Tigers earned 129 pass yards as a collective unit to average 7.6 yards per catch.

But what makes their offense unique is the play of senior tight end Michael Egnew. The Texas native is among the best tight ends in all of collegiate football. He was named to the Mackey Award, Walter Camp Award, and a pre-season first team All-American by Lindy’s.

Egnew was tops among all NCAA tight ends with 90 catches, 762 yards and five scores in 2010.

EDGE: Even

 

Offensive Line

Osweiler made it a point to thank the ASU offensive linemen for their play during his    postgame press conference on Thursday.

The experienced offensive line was instrumental in protecting Osweiler, allowing the offense to produce 48 points and 517 total yards.

Senior center and team captain Garth Gerhart continues to anchor the o-line.

For UM, sophomore left tackle Justin Britt and junior left guard Jack Meiners both made their first career starts last week. Senior right guard Austin Wuebbels has solidified himself as a cornerstone of the Tigers’ offensive line by starting in 27 consecutive games.

EDGE: ASU

 

Defensive Line

Sophomore defensive end Junior Onyeali burst onto the collegiate scene in 2010 with a standout freshman season. He is now tasked with continuing that high level of play in year two.  Onyeali picked up a sack last week to boost his career total to 7.5.

Of his 20 career tackles, 13.5 of them have been for loss.

The Tigers’ defensive line returns several experienced playmakers, including redshirt junior defensive end Brad Madison. Madison was named to the Second-Team All-Big 12 team last season, and led the entire UM defense with 7.5 quarterback sacks.

UM will likely be without starting senior defensive end Jacquies Smith.

EDGE: Even

 

Linebacker

Last week, the defense registered eight plays of negative yardage or no gain, and the ASU linebackers were significant proponents in shutting down the UC Davis offense.

Junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict sacked Aggie quarterback Randy Wright three times. Burfict entered the 2011 season with just one career sack.

While UM owns talent at the position, it’s the depth that makes the Sun Devils standout. They not only have Burfict, but seniors Colin Parker and Shelly Lyons as well.

The Tigers welcome the return of redshirt senior linebacker Luke Lambert who has been hampered by injuries the past couple seasons.

Redshirt junior linebacker Zaviar Gooden received a variety of preseason accolades from the Benarik and Nagurski Watch Lists, and preseason First-Team All-Big-12. The hard-hitting Gooden led UM with his 85 tackles a season ago. He also tacked on five turnovers and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Senior linebacker Will Ebner is also doubtful for Friday’s game.

EDGE: ASU

 

Secondary

After battling a hamstring injury throughout fall practice, junior cornerback Deveron Carr suited up and played in ASU’s first game of the season. Carr has started nine games in his career, and will be counted on heavily in the absence of injured senior cornerback Omar Bolden.

Sophomore cornerback Osahon Irabor could prove to be a difference-maker as well. He’s collected 42 tackles in 13 career games.

The Tigers must compensate for the departures of cornerbacks Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland. Junior cornerback Kip Edwards and sophomore cornerback E.J. Gaines both gained valuable playing experience throughout last season.

Senior safety Kenji Jackson is among the best in the Big-12 conference. He was selected as the team’s safety of the year in 2010, and was chosen as a preseason third-team all Big-12 selection by Athlon.

Jackson snagged two interceptions and five pass breakups during his junior season.

EDGE: Missouri

 

Special Teams

Since fifth-year coach Dennis Erickson took over in 2007, the ASU return game has been among the most dominant in all of the Pac-12 conference.

Junior Jamal Miles unleashed a 98-yard kickoff return versus UC Davis. It was the second kickoff return for a touchdown of his career, and the sixth by the Sun Devils during Erickson’s tenure.

Miles’ first return for a touchdown came against UCLA last season when he scurried for a 99-yard touchdown.

Redshirt freshman kicker Alex Garoutte looked sharp during his ASU debut. He nailed both of his field goal attempts — one of which was 49 yards — and was a perfect six-for-six on extra points.

UM returns plenty of experience at kicker with senior Grant Ressel. The Missouri native owns a 44-for-47 career field goal mark and has made 86-of-88 career extra points.

He was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award in 2010, and was named to the same Award watch list prior to the 2011 campaign. Last season, he split the uprights on 17 of his 19 field goal attempts and was named Honorable Mention All-Big-12 and to the ESPN/CoSIDA First-Team.

EDGE: Even

 

Overall: ASU. Osweiler’s passing and running abilities as well as the plethora of playmakers on offense give the Sun Devils an advantage, while ASU’s menacing linebacker core and strong defensive line give the Sun Devils the edge.

Reach the reporter at greg.dillard@asu.edu

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