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Sun Devils facing first road test at Missouri

Sun Devils facing first road test at Missouri

September 11th, 2012 by JOHN MARSHALL, AP College Football Writer in News

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Arizona State opened the Todd Graham era with a dominating win over Northern Arizona.

The catch was that it came against an overmatched team from the smaller Football Championship Subdivision, so the Sun Devils merely did what they were supposed to.

Arizona State followed with another impressive victory, this one over Illinois from the Big Ten Conference over the weekend.

The issue there was that the Illini played without their starting quarterback, severely limiting their offense.

Say what you will about the Sun Devils' schedule, though, one thing's for certain: They're playing well, no matter the opponent.

Disciplined, nearly unstoppable on offense and brimming with confidence, Arizona State is off to a superb start in its first season under Graham.

"I am extremely proud of the guys and where they are. We have a lot of work to do, but they are performing at a level that I expect them to," Graham said on Monday. "I'm not surprised by it. These guys really want to win and I think they understand that what I'm telling them is the truth."

Arizona State dominated Northern Arizona in its opener, scoring early and often in a 63-6 win over the lower-tier Lumberjacks.

Taylor Kelly had a superb debut after winning a tight battle for the starting quarterback spot, the offense ran for seven touchdowns and the Sun Devils dominated both sides of the ball, scoring their most points in seven years while knocking out NAU's starting quarterback and running back.

Arizona was supposed to face a much stiffer challenge against Illinois on Saturday. It turned out be another lopsided win.

The Illini played without quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase because of an ankle injury and the Illini had a hard time getting anything going against the swarming Sun Devils. Arizona State had its way against Illinois' defense, too, rolling up 510 yards in a 45-14 win that could have been more if the Sun Devils hadn't fumbled twice inside Illinois' 10-yard line.

Regardless of the oppositions' limits, Arizona State has been dominant and disciplined.

Known as a loose-cannon team under previous coach Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils have committed five penalties in two games, as many as they had in some quarters the past couple of seasons. Just two of those penalties were committed by the starters and one of those was an intentional delay of game against Illinois to set up a punt.

Arizona State has been prolific with Graham's sped-up offense, ranking seventh in the nation with 54 points per game while ranking 23rd in rushing and 34th in passing. The Sun Devils are seventh in passing efficiency and 17th nationally in total offense with 532 yards per game.

OK, so the gaudy numbers have come in the limited scope of two games and against limited opponents, but it's a good start.

"It is great. We have to keep handling it every week," Kelly said. "We have to come out like it is a 0-0 season. We have to come out to every game and come away with a victory every week and prepare throughout that week. We have to improve every week."

Especially this week with the Sun Devils' first true test.

Going on the road for the first time under Graham, Arizona State heads to the Midwest on Saturday to face Missouri and what's-he-going-to-do-next quarterback James Franklin.

A junior, Franklin is a good passer, ranking second in career efficiency in school history, but is just as big a threat to tuck it and run, creating headaches for defenses trying to figure out what to stop.

The Tigers faded against No. 7 Georgia in their last game, allowing the Bulldogs to score 24 straight points in a 41-20 loss in Columbia, but have won 17 straight non-conference home games and will be a competitive step up from what the Sun Devils faced their first two games.

"Each week it has gotten tougher for us obviously and I think this is going to be the biggest challenge yet," Graham said. "I think our guys know that."

Win this game and there will be no knocks against the Sun Devils.