Defense setting game plan to stop Mizzou’s Franklin

Redshirt senior safety Keelan Johnson (10) watches as Alden Darby (4) intercepts a pass. The ASU defense has been preparing to stop Missouri junior quarterback James Franklin all week in practice. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

Missouri junior quarterback James Franklin is a dual threat. It is the perfect way to describe him because he threatens ASU defense two different ways — his arm and legs.

“He’s an extremely efficient passer within their system,” ASU defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said. “Then when there’s nothing there, he’s big and athletic enough to pull the ball down and hurt you there also.”

The last time that Franklin faced the Sun Devils, he hurt ASU in the air with 319 yards and two touchdowns.

Then he also hurt them on the ground with 84 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. Some plays were designed runs and others he would scramble to escape the pocket.

The Tigers run a lot of empty backfield sets, where it is only Franklin. The offense runs through him.

The focus this week for the ASU defense across all positions has been to stop Franklin.

It starts up front with the defensive line.

ASU’s big three up front have the difficult task of pressuring Franklin. But too much pressure and they could over-shoot Franklin and he can scramble for a big gain.

Randolph said his line will always be aggressive, but this week it has to attack wisely.

Freshman nose tackle Jaxon Hood will have the job of bringing pressure and containing Franklin up the middle. He said the linemen needed to be controlled in their rushes.

“We’re trying to get up in his face,” Hood said. “But you can’t just go all over the place or he’ll find a gap, he’ll shoot it, he’ll be gone.”

In case Franklin does get past the defensive line in a scramble, the next line of defense for ASU is the linebackers.

When in pass coverage, the linebackers will be focused on their zones and the receivers they are covering.

Randolph said while they are doing that, they will always watch the quarterback out of the corner of their eye.

“Our mentality has always been see the ball, get the ball,” Randolph said. “That helps us if he pulls it down and he’s out scrambling or running then the linebackers can see it and they can be a little bit quicker on trying to help him force it if he is coming out scrambling.”

Franklin will also put a strain on the ASU secondary. Unlike the linemen and linebackers the secondary is focused on pass first.

Redshirt junior cornerback Osahon Irabor said that he trusts his guys up front if Franklin tries to scramble. He cannot leave his coverage until he crosses the line.

Irabor said that Franklin’s speed could challenge the corners in a different way.

Franklin can extend the play making it easier for wide receivers to get open. Irabor said the secondary has been practicing this week for that situation.

“We call it locking on,” Irabor said. “You just have to find the nearest receiver and lock on because with a quarterback like that, he can always get outside the pocket at anytime and you just got to be prepared for that.”

The ASU defense fortunately goes against two quarterbacks in practice in redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank that offers the same skill set.

Both Hood and Irabor said it has been good preparation to go against Kelly and Eubank when the starters compete against each other in practice.

 

WRs called out

At the end of Tuesday’s practice, coach Todd Graham was very blunt when he said the group that needs to step up the most are the receivers.

“We got to get better at that position,” Graham said. “That seems to be the one that lacks the most leadership.”

After Wednesday’s practice Graham challenged different receivers to step up into that leadership role. The one player in particular was senior Jamal Miles.

“I challenge Jamal,” Graham said. “He’s the one that should step up. He’s the one that should be doing it, guys that experience, returning starters.”

Graham said he is not looking for a cheerleader. He wants a player that does the little things right and shows toughness on the field.

Two players that stuck out to him that were showing these attributes were junior wide receiver Kyle Middlebrooks and junior tight end Chris Coyle.

 

Injury Report

Senior defensive tackle Corey Adams worked out at muscle beach today. He is doubtful to play Saturday with his back injury.

Both freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza and sophomore cornerback Rashad Wadood are out for the year with shoulder injuries. Both were at practice today in uniforms and slings, however.

 

Reach the reporter at ehubbard@asu.edu