Todd Graham put in a lot of time in the off-season to prepare his Arizona State football team for his first season as head coach. But there’s no way to prepare for every eventuality.
The Sun Devils, who are off to a 2-0 start, have had a couple of surprises so far, but each one has worked in their favor.
Last week, Illinois played ASU without its starting quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase, who was sidelined with an ankle injury. The Sun Devils won that one, 45-14, following a 63-6 rout of Northern Arizona in the season opener.
Now it looks like the Missouri Tigers may be gifting the Devils again.
Missouri’s starting quarterback may be on the sidelines for this afternoon’s game, as head coach Gary Pinkel weighs whether to play James Franklin, his starting signal caller last season and through two games this year, after Franklin was roughed up last week in a 41-20 loss last week to No. 7 Georgia.
(*Update: As expected, Franklin sat for this game, but ASU might have done better if he had played. His backup, Corbin Berkstresser, led the Tigers to a 24-20 win in Columbia. And perhaps a bad omen… the Sun Devils will face another back-up QB for a third straight game when they take on Utah next week in their conference opener.)
Franklin had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder over the summer and several hard hits by the Bulldogs created some soreness in the shoulder. He was expected to start against ASU, but recent reports indicate there is serious doubt he will be ready.
It will be a game-time decision for the Mizzou coaching staff, but a report by KOMU-TV puts redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser as the more likely starter.
Franklin, who has completed 38 of 62 passes for 400 yards in the first two games, was not listed on the weekly injury report. The 6’2″ junior from Texas is a dual-threat QB who had a break-out season in 2011, throwing for 2,865 yards and rushing for 981 yards.
Berkstresser, who is expected to step in if Franklin can’t go today, saw some playing time in a 62-10 romp over Southeastern Louisiana to open the season. He went 5-for-5 passing for 60 yards and a score.
If Franklin doesn’t play today, it certainly levels the playing field somewhat. ASU was faced with its first road game of the year, playing an explosive team that can put points on the board early to take the visitors out of the game.
That formula has worked pretty well for seven years now. The Tigers have a school record going, winning 17 in a row at home against non-conference opponents.
Add to that, Mizzou is anxious to get a chance to avenge an overtime loss to ASU last year in Tempe.
One of their main issues last week against Georgia stemmed from mistakes. Missouri coughed up the ball on fumbles twice and also had to recover from bad snaps on more than one occasion.
An offensive line that has lost three starters to injuries so far this season had difficulty protecting their quarterback. Franklin was sacked twice and hurried nine times.
If Berkstresser is under center today, we will be the one doing the scampering behind a patch-work offensive line. And when he tries to get rid of the ball, he will be throwing into a secondary that is ranked eighth nationally in pass defense and has accounted for six interceptions – which leads the nation in that category.
And the Devils also rank seventh nationally in scoring offense after racking up 108 points through two games – the highest total for the first two games of a season in ASU history.
All in all, ASU might not need a sidelined Franklin to get the job done today.
But, as we say out West, it’s doubtful that Coach Graham would look a gift horse in the mouth.
(Photo: Missouri Athletics)