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September 6, 2011

Sun Devils ready to find out where they stand

After cramping in Arizona State's opening game win in sweltering Sun Devil Stadium Thursday, junior quarterback Brock Osweiler carried a jug of his preferred hydration beverage with him to Monday's weekly press conference.

Friday evening, Osweiler no doubt would prefer to switch his jug for a can of some something else.

Sure, a good old fashion whooping would go a long way for Osweiler and the Sun Devils' confidence, but beggars can't be choosers and they'd take a win any way they could get it, particularly in a game played to a nationally televised audience against No. 21 Missouri.

Wins of any kind against quality opponents have been few and far between in recent seasons for the Sun Devils, but with higher hopes and more pressure than any year since coach Dennis Erickson's arrival in Tempe, this game will undoubtedly be viewed by many as a litmus test. Not only for this team, but for this era.

"You can learn a little bit in a game like last week, but not a lot," Erickson said of Thursday's breezy 48-14 win against FCS UC-Davis. "This will be big to find out where we're at, there's no question about it. I'm excited about playing the game. And I know our players are anxious to play a game like this early in the season. We think we have a chance to be pretty good, but we'll know more after [Friday]."

If they do demonstrate their credentials as a Top-25 program Friday -- the Sun Devils are No. 23 in the USA Today coaches poll and received the most votes among teams not included in the Associated Press poll -- they'll likely point to increased discipline, a focal point throughout the off-season after emotional instability led them to finish last in the Pac-10 in penalties a year ago.

"Ben (Hilgart), our strength coach, took it as far as how we lined up to stretch," Osweiler said. "If we didn't do it right, we would run. When we were doing conditioning, if people would cross the line before he blew the whistle, then he would back us up 10 yards or he would add reps to it."

The Sun Devils handled their emotions surprisingly well on Thursday, committing just four penalties for 40 yards, showing enough poise that they almost looked detached at times, a rote performance in stark contrast to their typical effort over the last few years.

Against Missouri, in a darkly-charged environment labeled as their first "Blackout," during which they will wear all black uniforms for the first time program history, a mechanical tact isn't likely, particularly with the game playing to a nationally televised ESPN audience. How well they handle the emotional challenge will either be confirmatory, or lead to suspicions that these are the same-ole'-Sun Devils.

Rise of Tello

Fifth year senior offensive lineman Adam Tello is a relaxed sort, someone his peers would typically label as having a "chill" disposition. But that cool outward demeanor has masked an inner fire that burned increasingly hotter with every practice observed from the sidelines in August.

Tello missed all of summer's intense workouts while recovering from back surgery -- his second -- and the opportunity to again work with the first-team at left guard Monday eased an emotional ache that has persisted for weeks.

"It feels really good," Tello said. "It was so hard standing on the sidelines all fall camp, watching my teammates play and now that I'm there it all feels pretty solid. It was the first day but physically it felt really good, I was good technique wise. I'm back in the groove of things."

Tello is competing with fellow fifth year senior Mike Marcisz for a starting nod, but just that he's competing at all is a win by his way of seeing things, as the increased introspection that comes with seeing the finish line grown near has taken hold of him.

"It's a big deal to use," said Tello, who started two games at guard last season. "We've got to win it, I know that. I've just got to make sure if I do go out there I'm going to play well for my teammates. It's my last big non-conference game at home, I don't know how much the NFL is going to like a guy who had two back surgeries so you've got to make the most of what you have when you have it and I really appreciate the opportunity and want to play well for my teammates."

Aaron moves up

Senior linebacker Oliver Aaron worked with the first-team defense at field side linebacker Monday, a sign that his range and coverage ability will be heavily counted on against a team that mirrors Arizona State in its ability to exploit the seam with tight end/slot receiver Michael Egnew, who had 90 catches last season.

"It's a big responsibility," Aaron said. "I don't think I played perfectly by any stretch in our first game but I did some good things and the coaches are putting trust in me by giving me the start. I just have to be focused on what my responsibilities are, really study up on everything and know that when the game starts I'm prepared to handle my business. You don't really get chances bigger than this to prove what you can do and I want to take advantage of it."

Notes

  • Senior offensive lineman Aderious Simmons (ankle sprain) did not practice and is questionable for Friday's game. Erickson said if he plays, Simmons will be used as a backup, with senior Dan Knapp expected to start at right tackle and sophomore Evan Finkenberg at right tackle.

  • Erickson said he wasn't especially pleased with the performance of the second-team Thursday but listed offensive linemen Kody Koebensky and Tyler Sulka, linebacker Matt Tucker, safety Kevin Ayers -- now with the second team following Ezekiel Bishop season-ending knee injury -- and the reserve running backs, presumably Marcus Washington and R.J. Robinson.


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