Even with a few hours to reflect on Arizona State’s 37-30 overtime win over Missouri last night, it’s hard to figure out what to totally make of the game.
On the one hand, there’s no denying that it was fun, fast and exciting. The two teams combined for close to 1,000 yards of total offense, a handful of stars were born (hey, did you know Brock Osweiler is 6’8?) and it afforded fans the opportunity to crack plenty of jokes at the expense of…this guy. At the same time, it was also sloppy and a bit concerning for Arizona State fans; quite frankly, had it not been for a few too many penalties and a costly miscue, the game could’ve been over early in the fourth quarter.
Still, it was nothing if not entertaining. The Sun Devils jumped out to a quick lead early, thanks to Osweiler’s big arm, and the play of his receiving corps, especially Aaron Pflugrad. The senior went from national unknown to college football celebrity, and in the process caused about 225,000 fans nationwide to frantically Google search his name, wondering, “Who the hell is this guy?” He finished the night with eight catches for 180 yards and had two touchdowns, after grabbing just two touchdowns in the entire 2010 season. Talk about a coming out party, huh?
And it was Pflugrad's second touchdown grab that actually should’ve been the death-nail for Missouri Friday night. It came with just over 14 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and gave Arizona State a 30-16 lead.
Ball-game, right? Clearly you’ve never seen a Dennis Erickson team play football before.
Instead, it was just the beginning of a wild finish to the game, as Missouri used good field position, a handful of Arizona State penalties, a muffed punt and excellent play by quarterback James Franklin to tie things up, and nearly still a win on the road.
Immediately following Pflugrad’s second touchdown grab, the Sun Devils got the stop that should’ve iced the game for them, as their defense- highlighted by a Vontaze Burfict sack- forced a three and out.
But when the ensuing Missouri punt left Trey Barrow’s foot, a funny thing happened. The normally sure-handed Jamal Miles muffed the catch, coughed up the ball, and it was recovered by Missouri in Arizona State territory. Four plays later (thanks in large part to a questionable Arizona State pass interference call), Missouri scored, and the Arizona State lead was cut to 30-23. After a stop on defense, Franklin led another touchdown drive on the following possession, completing five of seven passes, and converting a crucial fourth down with his feet. All of a sudden a seemingly safe two touchdown lead for Arizona State had been erased entirely.
And then, that’s where it got interesting.
After a third straight Sun Devils drive ended with a punt, Missouri received the ball again, with a chance to actually win the game in regulation. They nearly did. On the first play from scrimmage, running back Henry Josey picked up 39 yards, and after two more Franklin runs put the Tigers in field goal range, it seemed as though Missouri would steal a win on the road. They sent out normally steady kicker Grant Ressel to seal the victory.
But right as Ressel lined up to kick the field goal, the whistle blew.
It was a timeout…from the Missouri sideline.
Then, right as the two teams got set to line up again, another whistle. From Missouri.
No matter what Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s intentions were (did he have money on the game?), his plan backfired. The Missouri coaching staff ended up essentially icing their own kicker, as Ressel missed the field goal, and the two teams went to overtime. From there, the wind was out of the Tigers sails, and Arizona State won with a field goal.
There are a few takeaways from this one, with the first one being, what in the hell was Pinkel thinking? Reading the AP recap, he doesn’t give any indication as to why he called either timeout, let alone both. It was a truly bizarre situation, and one that led to plenty of funny commentary on Twitter. Most fans down in SEC country were particularly vocal, nearly begging Mike Slive to immediately remove Missouri from any discussions as a new member to their conference. Truthfully, it’s hard to blame them.
Outside of Pinkel’s flub though, I’ve got to be honest: Overall it was hard not to be impressed with Missouri.
Simply put, I had absolutely no expectations coming into this game for the Tigers, but credit them and quarterback James Franklin in particular, for changing my tune. Franklin proved himself to be an emerging star, as a dual-threat guy with smarts and field-awareness, traits that were especially impressive considering Friday night was just the second start of his career. Understand it wasn’t that he threw for 319 yards and rushed for another 84, but how he did. Franklin had good pocket presence, and seemed to constantly make plays when his team needed them. Now granted, that doesn't make Missouri a favorite in the Big XII. Not by a long-shot. They are a much bigger threat than I expected though.
Then there’s Arizona State. My oh my, what do we make of Arizona State?
Heading into the season, there was no doubt that the Sun Devils were a team with plenty of hype. They had a roster full of seniors (over 30), a future first round pick in Burfict leading their defense, and a team that was oh-so-close to actually being really good last year. The Sun Devils finished a deceptive 6-6, as they combined to lose to both Stanford and Wisconsin (two teams that played in BCS bowls) by a just five points. Arizona State lost to USC by just one as well.
And after watching last night’s game, it’s easy to tell that the hype is justified. On offense, Osweiler- who is 6’8, in case you didn’t notice- is an emerging star, with a big arm, and the deceptive ability to take off and run with the ball. Sure he’s not Cam Newton outside the pocket, but at the same time, he’s not Ryan Mallett either.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Sun Devils were surprisingly skilled and athletic. On offense, Cameron Marshall proved to be a feared player who can both run and catch out of the backfield, with Miles (despite his fumble) and Pflugrad, two solid, big-play targets as well. The defense has playmakers all over the field, led by Burfict, who may very well be the best linebacker in the country.
Of course, there are reasons to be concerned for Sun Devils fans too. Namely, the same thing that plagued Arizona State last year- bone-headed mistakes at inopportune times- nearly cost them last night, and could cost them going forward. Arizona State finished the game with 12 penalties for 110 yards, and allowed a handful more big plays thanks to sloppy tackling and general laziness on defense. Dennis Erickson’s teams have never been known for discipline dating all the way back to his time at Miami in the late 1980’s. If Friday night was any indication, nothing appeared to change on that front.
Regardless, these are definitely two teams to watch out for going forward. For Missouri, they proved that on the right night, they’ll be a team able to hang with anyone in the Big XII. To those Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M fans which immediately marked the Tigers as a “check” in the win column, beware. The Tigers can jump up and bite you.
As for Arizona State, they too are plenty talented, and good enough to beat anyone in Pac-12, including Stanford and Oregon. Of course the underlying question now becomes whether they can simply stay out of their own way, and avoid the killer mistakes that nearly cost them last night. As they say, “a leopard can’t change its spots” and isn't hard to see Arizona State giving a game away to a less talented team on sheer stupidity alone. It almost happened last night.
But instead of looking ahead, let’s just appreciate what we had last night: A fun, high-quality football game. Who says good college football is played exclusively on Saturday?
Follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.