There was a fair amount of debate on Keith Price’s performance in the first half Saturday night against the Boise State Broncos. Some thought he was good, and some thought he looked too much like the 2012 version. Anthony Cassino gave us the stats, but here’s a breakdown of every called pass play in the first half. Note that all plays came out of the pistol formation.
1. 1st and 10 own 40. Trips right. 11 personnel, with Bishop Sankey left. Tight end covered so not an eligible receiver. Fake to Sankey. Pump to Jaydon Mickens (inside slot) on lateral release. Looks designed to my eyes; I don't think Price was ever going there. Kevin Smith is on the outside and runs a post. Kasen Williams squats and then runs a fade. Pass to Williams is underthrown allowing trailing corner to make the play. If deeper, the safety covering Smith or the one over the top of Williams may have been able to come over and make play, but that's not a given. Play appears to be to Williams all the way, to take advantage of short corners with jump ball to Williams. Bad throw. Really bad.
2. 2nd and 7 own 19. Four wides. Twins each side. Inside receiver on line outside receiver off each side. Sankey is the back on left. No play fake, two step shuffle drop. John Ross is the inside receiver left and runs a hitch. Ball on money. Catch and 2 YAC for first down.
3. 1st and 10 own 27. Twin left and right. Play fake to Sankey running from left to right. Swing to Ross, who's slot left. The ball hits him in stride. Catch at line of scrimmage, Ross picks up 9. Good block by Smith downfield.
4. 2nd and 1 own 36. Same formation, but Ross is on line and Smith (outside) is off. Same exact play. Boise State corners do much better job reading play. Catch is made for what would’ve been a gain of 2, but Smith holds as he had missed his block.
5. 2nd and 10 own 27. Twins each side. Sankey is left and motions behind Price to the right for a swing pass. Blitz up the middle collapses the pocket. Price avoids the rush, tucks, and gains 3 up the middle. There wasn't much open, and this was probably the right read.
6. 3rd and 7 own 30. Twins both sides, Sankey left. 3 step drop with no play action. All receivers run hitches. Price hits 3rd step and immediately throws to Smith, who was outside left. Catch made, gain of 8 and a first down.
All passes have gone left except the first. Price really forcing tempo well.
7. 1st and 10 own 38. Two tight ends left. Play fake right. Price hits Smith (slot right) on swing at LOS. Good block by Kasen downfield (outside right). Smith picks up 12.
8. 2nd and 14 own 46. Tight end right. Twins right. Sankey left. Mickens comes in motion from the right slot behind the formation. Play fake and swing to Mickens on the left side. Pass is slightly high but Mickens doesn’t really have to break stride too badly. Great block downfield by DiAndre Campbell. Gain of 11.
9. 1st and 10 BSU 39. Trips left tight to formation (one of them is a tight end in three point stance with a 3 yard split off left tackle. Sankey right. Smith motions behind formation from left to right for swing pass. Price pumps to Smith, shuffles twice, and throws to the end zone to Ross on a post/seam. Doesn’t appear to be great effort by Ross, but difficult to tell. Pass ever so slightly over thrown. This play was the counter to the swing pass to Mickens on the last pass play – same motion, but pump to him and then go deep.
10. 3rd and 9 BSU 38. Tight end left, twins right, Sankey right. Fake to Sankey, then swing to Mickens who is slot right and shuffles toward the sideline at the snap waiting for pass. Pass is on time and on target. Great block by Williams downfield allows Mickens to pick up 11. Late hit out of bounds puts ball half distance to goal.
11. 1st and 10 own 39. Trips left, Sankey right. Mickens (inside slot left) comes in motion behind the formation. Fake to Sankey followed by 3 step drop. Price shuffles, and throws a dart 42 yards down the field to Smith on a vertical from outside left spot. Just sticks it right on him. If this pass is two feet shorter, Smith takes it in stride and might still be running today. Great pass, great catch, and the protection was there.
12. 1st and 22 from own 13. Trips left, tight end right, Sankey left. Swing pass to Mickens, who is slot left. The play was designed to stay outside, where Mickens had to blockers down the field, but his man read the play well and was pursuing. Mickens cuts inside him, then back outside to his blockers and picks up 19 yards.
13. 2nd and 8 from own 40. Trips left, tight end right, Cooper right. Looking for the swing to Mickens in the slot, but BSU blows up that opportunity when the left end pushes Hatchie back into the throwing lane. Williams and Smith (the other two receivers on the left) are running vertical routes. Williams is bracketed high and low, and Smith is covered reasonably well. Neither player is exactly "open," so Price lazily rolls back to his right and throws the ball out of bounds. There may have been some potential to try and get the ball down the field (the receivers run off the screen so it’s hard to tell), but I’m going to trust that Price made the right decision to not force the ball and to simply line up for the next play. Smith and Williams were so close to each other that the high safety on Williams likely would’ve been able to come over and help on a deep pass thrown to Smith. There was no route on the right side of the field as both the tight (Michael Hartvigson) and Cooper stayed in to block.
14. 3rd and 8 from own 40. Twins left and right, Sankey left. Straight pass action. Price takes snap and drops back three steps. He’s looking to the middle of the field, and then comes back left to DeMorea Stringfellow, who’s running a comeback route at 10 yards on the outside of the formation. The ball is low and to the outside (where it should be on that route), and Stringfellow catches the ball while falling to the ground for a first down. A higher pass might’ve lead to some opportunity for yards after catch, but on 3rd down, the best thing to do is be sure to move the chains.
15. 2nd and 9 from midfield. Twins left and right, Sankey left. Price fakes to Sankey, which draws both of the inside linebackers upfield. The safety over Ross is playing him outside-in, probably expecting the linebackers to make the correct read to help in the middle of the field. Since they’re not home, it’s an easy pitch and catch to Ross on a slant about 10 yards down the field, and Ross then rumbles another 12 yards for a gain of 22. Great easy, read, and a pass that was on the money to produce a big play.
16. 1st and 10 at the BSU 29. Twins left and right, Sankey left (seeing a theme yet?). Play fake to Sankey followed by a 3 step drop. Price is looking to the middle of the field to Williams coming from the right on a post, but he’s covered high and low by a linebacker and safety. The left defensive end gets around Riva, so Price steps up in the pocket and flips a one-handed chest pass to Sankey, who had actually stayed in to block but read the pressure and provided a safety valve for Price. Sankey rumbles upfield for 12 yards. Price did a very nice job stepping up in the pocket, and made the easy decision to let a wide open Sankey do the heavy lifting. Last year, and in 2011, I don’t really remember this type of play even being an option; the back was typically already in the route, or mostly had to pick up a defender as a blocker. The play action and the lack of rushers from BSU allowed this play to happen. Great read by Sankey, and good decision by Price.
17. 3rd and 5 from the BSU 12. Twins left and right, Sankey left. Ross comes in motion behind the formation from the left slot. Sankey runs a wheel route down the sideline to the left side of the formation. Pressure comes from the left side of the line on a blitz, but Price probably could’ve stepped forward. Instead, he tries to hit Williams, who was outside left and had tried to sit down between two defenders on a short hitch. Unfortunately, even if this pass would’ve been complete, Williams had only run about a yard and a half beyond the line of scrimmage. Sankey may have come open later down the sideline; the safety that was going to have to pick him up was squatting on Williams and would’ve had to turn and run with Sankey moving at full speed. The pass was poorly thrown, and the route by Williams wasn’t great considering it was 3rd down. With a little more time, or maybe one step up in the pocket, this might have been a TD. As it was, incomplete and not a well-run play.
18. 1st and 10 from own 25. Twins right with a single wide-out left (Smith). Mickens is in the backfield on the right, and Sankey is left. Mickens motions behind the formation right before the snap, and there’s play action to Sankey. Quick swing to Mickens, who follows a fantastic block from Smith (who literally drove his man out of bounds) for a gain of 6. Basically, this play is a long handoff for a wide run.
19. 1st and 10 from own 39. Twins left (Josh Perkins is in the slot and Williams is outside). Mickens is in the backfield right, and Sankey is left. Play action to Mickens. Williams runs a fade or deep comeback (can’t tell on the TV). Perkins was obviously thinking either it was a running play, or a swing pass coming behind him as he tries to block his defender instead of running a route. Williams is double teamed high and low. Price had rolled right after the fake, so this play was obviously designed to go right. It was clear to Price almost immediately after the snap that somebody (probably Perkins) didn’t run the right play, so he pulled up and threw the ball out of bounds. There was no safety valve on this side of the field. This was the right read.
20. 2nd and 10 from own 39. Twins left and right, Sankey left. Straight pass action. Price is looking right to Williams (who was outside right) from the get go. Price hits Williams on a slant, and Williams muscles forward for about 11 yards. While you’d maybe not like Price to lock on to his receiver the way he did, the fact is that the play was quick enough to not allow anybody to rotate to Williams. Price put the ball right in Williams’ gut, which allowed him to use his body to shield the defender. There wasn’t much of an opportunity for yards after the catch because of the way the ball was placed (right on Williams instead of in front of him), but leading him would’ve allowed the opportunity for the defender to play the ball, and the fact is, I’ll take 11 yards every time.
21. 1st and 15 from the BSU 44. Twins left and right, Sankey left. Straight pass action. The two receivers on the right side of the formation, and the slot on the left run vertical routes. Smith, who is wide left, runs a deep out. The ball goes to Smith. Price doesn’t drive the ball deep enough down the field, so Smith has to come back for it. It’s complete, but only for a gain of 7 yards. It should’ve been 10-12 yards, save for the underthrown pass. Price didn’t get great velocity on the ball, either.
22. 2nd and 8 from the BSU 37. Twins left and right, Sankey left. Straight pass action. Ross is slot left and runs a seam. The high safety doesn’t cover him, and rolls toward the middle of the field. Ross is wide open, and would’ve easily scored. Price misses him on this one. Instead, even though there’s little pressure, Price runs left and ends up throwing the ball out of bounds. This was a bad read and bad pocket presence. This was 2012 Keith Price. And it took to the 22nd called pass to get here.
23. 3rd and 8 from the BSU 37. Twins right, tight end right, Sankey left. Straight pass action. Price looks left all the way at Smith, who’s split left. The corner on Smith is in bump and run, and Price is looking at throwing the short back shoulder fade. The corner never sees the ball, but is right in Smith’s face. There’s quite a bit of contact, but no call is made. This was mostly just a good play by BSU’s corner. I’d wager this one would’ve been pass interference half the time, but I liked the non-call. This isn’t a terribly high percentage pass play, but it’s a good job of taking advantage of a personnel mismatch. The throw was in the right spot.
24. 1st and 10 from own 26. Twins right, tight end left, Sankey right. Play action to Sankey, and a quick swing to Mickens who was in the right slot and moved laterally toward the right sideline after the snap. Pass is on target, and a good block by Williams (who was wide right) downfield. Mickens picks up 6 before running out of bounds. Another one of those long handoff-type swing passes.
25. 1st and 10 from own 36. Twins left, tight end right, Sankey left. Williams comes in motion behind the formation, and there’s play action to Sankey. Price never really looks at Williams in the left flat for the swing pass that’s worked all half to Mickens and Ross, so it might’ve just been decoy action. Price’s eyes are definitely downfield. There’s pressure from the middle, so Price steps forward and quickly decides to tuck it down and run. He plows forward, taking a decent shot from a safety, and picks up 7 yards. Hartvigson was coming open across the middle, but by that time, Price had already made the decision to run. Had he kept his eyes down the field and been a bit more patient, there was the chance to pick up some big yards. Price was decisive, but he made the wrong decision here. There was definitely room to reset and hit his tight end instead of running.
26. 2nd and 4 from own 42 (34 seconds on clock). Twins left, tight end right, Sankey left. Price is looking right, but the coverage is good. For no apparent reason (there was no real pressure coming), he decides to roll right. Unfortunately, that takes him right into BSU’s right end, who’s able to hold on to Price long enough for the rest of the defense to get there and finish off the sack. If Price had been more patient, Williams was coming open from wide right across the middle of the field. But by rolling away from him, that option was no longer there. This was Price being jumpy. He had no reason to leave the pocket. A bad decision by him, and the Dawgs ended up letting the clock run out on the half.
There were 26 called passes in the first half. Price made the right decision to scramble on one of them, a defensible but ultimately wrong decision on one of them, and took a bad sack when he inexplicably lost his pocket presence. Of his 23 actual passes, only two of them were truly bad (the interception and the throw to Williams that was off-target and would’ve been short of the line to gain on third down deep in BSU’s territory). One time he missed a wide open receiver (Ross). He made three very good decisions to simply dump the ball out of bounds. 16 times, he was decisive, made a good read, and delivered a very accurate and catchable ball, and most times, they were in places to pick up 3rd downs or allow his receivers to pick up yards after the catch. For whatever reason, Price lost his cool a bit on that 2-minute drive, but other than that, he was decisive, showed great pocket presence, and did a great job of pushing the tempo. Yes, most of his throws were fairly easy to make. But he was just as good on the ones that weren’t. Even though the team didn’t score many points in the first half, I’d take Price’s performance in the first half of the BSU game for the rest of the season. The points will come.