By the Associated Press
The festive atmosphere fit the occasion for Missouri’s Southeastern Conference debut. Coach Gary Pinkel received numerous testimonials.
“It was apparently a remarkable presentation our fans put on, and I’m very, very appreciative of that,” Pinkel said.
Now, about that product on the field …
A late collapse turned what had been a competitive matchup into a 41-20 loss last week to No. 7 Georgia, ruining the occasion for Missouri. The Tigers (1-1) are stepping back outside their new conference Saturday night against Arizona State, hoping to justify all that enthusiasm with a positive result.
“I know that one loss doesn’t define our season,” wide receiver L’Damian Washington said. “We’re going to bounce back and finish very strongly this year with a great record.”
Arizona State (2-0) is off to a strong start under new coach Todd Graham, defeating Northern Arizona and Illinois by a combined score of 108-20.
The Sun Devils scored on four of their first five drives against Illinois, and none of their scoring drives lasted three minutes. Both quarterbacks, starter Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank, have been very productive. Plus, they beat Missouri in overtime in Tempe, Ariz., last year.
They’ll be on the road for the first time this season, trying to keep down a team that surrendered 24 unanswered points to end the Georgia loss. Graham said the key is poise, keeping emotions in check.
To help players familiarize themselves with the challenges of life on the road, Graham moves gear to the visitor’s locker room during the practice week, then takes the team to the stadium in a non-pressurized setting. Attention to detail includes using the “same air fresheners” as they do at home.
“As much as you can keep them in the routine, the better it is,” he said.
Missouri has won 17 in a row at home against non-conference opponents, a school record that dates to 2005, including a 62-10 victory over lower-division Southeastern Louisiana in the opener.
“I haven’t seen a lot of people stop them,” Graham said. “What happened to them last week is they turned the football over. They are very, very explosive.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the non-conference streak is overcoming mounting issues on the offensive line.
Tackle Elvis Fisher could miss a month after hurting a ligament in his right knee in the first half last week. He is the third starter on the line sidelined by injury.
Fisher was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing last season with a left knee injury.
“It is serious, but it’s not as serious as I thought it was so I’m thankful for that,” Fisher said. “Just kind of like, ‘Oh man, I’m hoping I’m not out for the season.'”
The defense will be without linebacker Zaviar Gooden (hamstring).
“You’re asking a lot of young players to be thrown into the fires a lot quicker than what they ever thought they would be,” Pinkel said. “But, you know, duty calls.”
Issues throughout last week’s loss, beginning with two horrendous snaps by sophomore center Mitch Morse during the opening possession, threw quarterback James Franklin off his game. Missouri was just 4 for 18 on third down and totaled 102 yards rushing.
Georgia had a very short field for two quick touchdowns off big plays by linebacker Jarvis Jones, a 21-yard interception return to the 1 and a forced fumble on a sack three plays later that gave the Bulldogs possession at the 5. Just like that, the deficit was an insurmountable 21 points.
“I would start to feel pressure that wasn’t even there,” Franklin said. “I was trying to anticipate the throw, so it was way off and incomplete, something like that. That was one thing that I definitely wanted to work on, just staying in there more and trusting a lot better.”
Franklin is facing a secondary that’s allowed just 125 yards passing per game, eighth best in the country, with six interceptions. But he’s definitely got the Sun Devils’ attention.
“We were up here all night trying to figure that out,” Graham said. “You’d better hang on. They have a great scheme and a great system.”