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Film Study: Arizona State Sun Devils

Quick start, no finish.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Against Arizona State — a team with a mobile QB and a very good rushing attack— the staff tried to shake things up. On offense, Junior Adams focused on schemes that catered to our players’ strengths, and Bob Gregory was more proactive in adjusting to ASU’s offense.

This is not a Washington team that was one change away from being a conference title contender, and they are who they are at this point: A middling football team with major QB problems.

To the Film:

1st and 10:

First up, we have a play that features a bunch of “new” wrinkles to the run game that is all about us getting back to our bread and butter concepts. Working out of 12 personnel against a 7ish-man box, we run outside zone to the wide side of the field. Pre-snap we have both TEs to the boundary, but then we bring Culp across the formation to the field wing position. 12 personnel outside zone with the pre-snap motion across the formation was a common sight under Jonathan Smith. Outside zone is all about reading the defensive flow. Too aggressive of a flow post-snap, and the defense loses gap integrity on the outside zone. Too little flow, and the defense gets outflanked. Smith (and now Adams) had a couple of tricks to mess with the defense’s ability to flow. Primarily, they used pre-snap motion.

Motion does as much before a run as it does before a pass. The motion forces the defense to reset their gap assignments, which in the split second before ball is snapped can cause hesitation and miscommunication (a much bigger problem on outside zone compared to inside zone). This year in particular, the motion keeping Culp at the wing position (as opposed to putting him on the LOS) was also a smart play design. From the wing position, he can still threaten a slice block to the backside, which the defense will be looking for given our play calling tendencies.

Another nice wrinkle was our use of pistol throughout this game. We hadn’t run much pistol all year, but it was a good change of pace that helped to disguise our runs much better than shotgun.

From there, it was all about Davis and the OL. As we’ve said all season, our OL is very athletic, but they aren’t maulers in the run game. That athletic profile screams outside zone and perimeter running (a staple of the Petersen-Smith offenses). We also have backs with good vision, which is crucial in a zone run scheme. As you can see on the play, the defense reacts to the motion very aggressively and flow hard to the play side edge. Using that momentum against them, our OL simply washes the defensive front down the LOS, and Davis hits a back side A-gap cutback, and he’s off to the races. A really simple play concept, but it was executed well and played to our strengths.


1st and 10:

On this back breaker play, we see an option wrinkle to our go-to zone slice play (and very similar to Dye’s 45-yard run that we broke down last week). Working out of a wing trey formation, ASU blocks this up almost exactly like how you’d block a normal zone slice play, but instead of bringing the H-back around on a slice block to kick out the backside Edge player, he instead arcs around the backside Edge (the read man on the option) and lead blocks upfield for the QB.

Against our 7-man box, ASU has all of our guys accounted for if the QB makes the right read, but that still means that they need to win every 1v1 and don’t get any double teams. Really we should’ve gotten a stop short of the line to gain. Again, much like last week, the DL held strong at the LOS, Trice crashed down on the RB like he was supposed to, Sirmon widened out to replace Trice on the backside contain, and both Heimuli and Cook immediately flowed with the slice blocker towards the LOS. Heimuli was blocked well by the OL, but Cook booked it across the formation and nearly makes the tackle. Unfortunately, Daniels is a dangerous runner, and he slipped the tackle for a gain of 20. This was simply Daniels making a play that beat a well-positioned defense.


1st and 10:

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have a stretch play that looks very similar to the outside zone play that we broke down at the top of the article. On this play, ASU again comes out in the same wing trey formation that they ran on Daniels’ long run on the play immediately before this one. At first glance, this play looks like we were simply winded and couldn’t keep up with the offense trying to outflank us (which might still have been true). However, closer inspection reveals that this might’ve just been a poorly timed defensive adjustment.


Worried about another inside zone play with a slice-option tag, we have Sirmon drop down outside of Trice to the weakside of the play in order to better play the backside option, we tighten up McDonald’s alignment to the 5-tech rather than the 7, and we bring Cook down on the LOS to account for the strongside edge. In total, this puts 6 guys on the LOS, which is advantageous against an inside zone play because it almost automatically eliminates any chance for the OL to use double teams to push you off the LOS. However, by putting all these guys on the LOS, we were only left with Bruener at the second level (as well as Hampton playing as a shallow safety 9-yards deep). Against an outside zone or stretch play, this is no bueno.

Not only does our defensive alignment minimize the number of second level defenders we have that can flow with the play (and not get caught in the traffic at the LOS), but on a stretch play where the offense is selling out on winning the edge (which is what we see), the backside defenders are automatically eliminated from the play just based on their alignment. Essentially, we are overcommitted to stopping a single run concept, and ASU ran away from our defensive strength. McDonald and Cook simply weren’t ready to take on the task of anchoring at the point of attack, Bruener had the B-gap (making it hard for him to redirect towards the ball carrier hitting the edge), and Hampton & Bookie were just outrun in space. Tough play for the defense.


3rd and 1:

If that last play was tough, then these next two plays will be even worse. Not to trash the guy, but this series was what sealed the deal for us mentally moving on from Dylan Morris as our starting QB.

Down 4 with less than one minute left in the game, and with two timeouts to burn, we are facing a 3rd & short situation. Knowing that we need to go 65 yards for a TD in 45 seconds, Junior Adams is staying aggressive and looking for chunk yardage in the passing game because he knows we can still run to pick up the first down on 4th down if necessary. That’s why he dials up the version of Shallow Cross concept we see above. Culp runs the post as an alert/clear out to make room for Davis on the drag route and Odunze on the 8-yard dig.

Against ASU’s single-high shell, the offense was expecting a Cover 3 or Cover 1 look, and the Shallow Cross was well set up for both. Taj Davis on the drag route is the primary read on the play, and he gives Morris a safe coverage-proof read that could be a catch-and-run threat. ASU drops into a really soft 3 under Cover 3 post-snap with their MLB spot dropping 12+ yards deep, giving Davis tons of space to work in the soft spot in the underneath zone. Like on all crossing routes, WRs are taught to throttle down or even sit in the soft gaps in the zone, and after almost immediately crossing the face of the OLB dropping into the flat, Davis starts to slow up a little to avoid running into coverage. However, Morris either gets greedy or simply takes too long to process what was in front of him. Culp on the alert post route should’ve been eliminated almost immediately once Morris read the MLB dropping hard into that passing lane. Reading the MLB dropping should’ve immediately triggered a pass to Davis, but he takes a beat too long to recognize this and also completely missed on Davis’s route adjustment against the zone by nearly throwing Davis a “hospital pass” into coverage.

If Morris can’t execute a basic 1-defender read on a pass play, he’s going to have issues running ANY offense. Frankly, we’re sick and tired of hearing that the coaches need to put him in a better position to succeed. This play exemplifies why Morris is not cutting it, no matter who the OC is.


4th and 1:

This is when things went from bad to worse.

On the very next play we are facing a make or break 4th down conversion. Adams decides to stick with the pass yet again, and he calls double slants to the boundary and a China concept to the field in order to get Morris an easy split field read with options against man and zone. ASU comes back with another single-high shell and is playing their DBs tight up on the LOS. Then slot corner over Odunze playing outside leverage press coverage is a dead giveaway that ASU is in Cover 1.

With 4 down DL and a single deep safety, ASU has 6 other defenders who need to account for the 5 eligible receivers on offense. This leaves the defense with 1 extra defender that they can either blitz, spy, or play underneath zone. A savvy QB would start to look for clues in the defense to figure out who the extra defender is and what his assignment is. On this play, identifying the extra defender comes down to either the MLB or the safety over Culp because both are in tight enough alignments to the slot where either could conceivably pick him up in man coverage, but with the safety directly over Culp, the MLB is the most likely extra defender. Given that Morris is not a threat to run, the MLB is either in Cover 1 Hole with him playing underneath zone or bringing him on a blitz.


Morris likely wasn’t composed enough to run through all those checks, but he did read Cover 1 pre-snap, so once the ball was snapped he was staring down the slants to the boundary all the way. ASU playing Cover 1 Hole with the MLB in the underneath zone (and cheating toward the boundary slants) was laying the perfect trap for the oblivious Morris. Clearly, Morris is locking into targets instead of making true reads. If he were reading the defense, he would’ve seen the MLB sitting on the outside slant and he would’ve thrown to Culp. Its also clear to me that he didn’t even consider what the defense was doing with the extra defender, which is an indictment of his basic football IQ (and, yes, the QB coaching).

Morris ends up throwing the pick-6, and that’s the game.

In their current state and with the current scheme, Morris and the UW run defense will continue to be limiting factors for this team.

They are still struggling with effective run defense on the edge. McDonald, Trice, Martin and Smalls just aren’t getting it done there in our 4-down look. Tough to say if it’s their youth, the coaching, scheme, or just the level of talent.

Two winnable games on the schedule. We’ll see if these Dawgs improve.