Nota bene: In what I can only assume is an ongoing attempt to destroy my eyes, after two weeks with awful camera angles the cosmos this week has infected my video host with a bizarre chroma compiling issue. I’ve contacted them about it, but I don’t know if it’ll be fixed by the time this goes up. If you see weird green or red flashes or ghost images, then you’re probably not hallucinating (or at least, any more than is normal for an Oregon fan).
In the last two games, this offense has had a 2:1 run-to-pass ratio. I think an imbalance that drastic is probably a mistake, and a surprising one from OC Likens who comes from the Sonny Dykes air raid tree. What’s really baffling is that while they’re about 50/50 in rushing effectiveness on a per-play basis, they’re an impressive 60% (26 success vs 17 failed) in downfield passing attempts.
Of course, most of that comes from just one player, #1 WR Harry. Some examples of his game-changing play:
On the first play, #6 QB Wilkins is showing some pretty good pocket presence stepping up and out of pressure with his eyes downfield, but it’s clear they’re locked onto Harry all the way on his out route from the slot. On the second play (at :09), Wilkins has so much faith in his first read that he’s begun his throwing motion before Harry even enters his break, and is rewarded as even very tight coverage can’t stop the reception. On the last play (at :15), Harry literally shrugs a defensive hold off and in the process throws the defender to the ground, then carries another defender into the endzone.
Wilkins is a difficult quarterback for me to pin down. I’ve seen him play with a lot of senior poise, and I’ve also seen him make some pretty wild freshman-caliber mistakes and overthrows. The best explanation I’ve heard is that he’s an emotional player and gets too amped up at times. I think that comes out most with the poor way he handles a lot of blitzes:
On the first play, the pocket is collapsing fast, but instead of taking the checkdown to his right or the quick dumpoff right in front of him, he makes a bad throw off his back foot with really bad form. On the second play (at :07), the pass protection is actually doing a decent job of handling the LB blitz while the DEs drop out, but Wilkins panics, takes off, and is promptly brought down, even though DEs in coverage usually create some enticing mismatches. On the last play (at :14), the 6-man rush has overwhelmed the 7 blockers (which is not unusual), and Wilkins escapes, but instead of continuing to his right where his wide open hot route is, he spins left, overthrows the receiver on the move, and turns the ball over.
The rushing offense has a pretty healthy mix of different plays, but by far the most effective is the inside zone:
On the first play, Wilkins makes the correct read of the crashing unblocked end and pulls the ball, then when the LT completely whiffs on blocking the MIKE (again, not unusual), Wilkins puts a pretty nice juke on him and accelerates for a big gain. On the second play (at :07), they’re in a frequent lineup they probably have a name for, but since it’s apropos I call it the fork-formation … over 85% of the time it’s just a handoff without the RPO component it seems to contain. #3 RB Benjamin gets a good block from the H-back and a serviceable block from the LT, then spins out of the tackle for some extra yards which he does a lot. On the last play (at :14), Wilkins reads the LB as staying home so he hands off, and again Benjamin gives him a pretty good spin out of a tackle and then dodges six different defenders coming for him.
At every other rush type -- power, outside zone, sweeps, counters, off-tackle runs -- they’re net negative on my tally sheet in the last two games. Benjamin’s skills just aren’t enough to compensate for pretty inconsistent blocking:
On the first play, the two linemen pulls aren’t getting the leverage they need to keep the defenders out of Wilkins’ running lane, and I’m not sure if the TE is supposed to just be chipping but he certainly doesn’t do enough to prevent the backside pursuit and winds up chasing after the DE fruitlessly. The second play (at :06) is an off-tackle run that weirdly UCLA had a lot easier time defending than Utah did, here by immediately disrupting the LT’s pull which not only generates backside pressure but prevents him from blocking the playside defender as well. The last play (at :12) is ASU’s goalline wildcat formation (again, they probably call this something else) using Harry as a runner, but of course the problem with that is he’s by far their best WR blocker and without him outside runs and screens tend to break down.
I think this unit is vulnerable in rush defense - in the last two games they only had 21 successes vs 31 failures, and while that was against two teams with impressive RBs, nearly a third of those successes were from the opposing offense making unforced errors. The main criticism I have is that the defensive configurations often seem inappropriate to the game situation and force pretty inconsistent LBs into making plays single-handedly that they often can’t:
The first play I can tell you from my own film study of Utah was almost guaranteed to be an inside run given this down, distance, and field position, yet ASU has a very light box and the middle of the field is open - there’s a double-team at both the first and the second level, and the safety is left to make the tackle eight yards downfield, where he hesitates and misses. On the second play (at :08), despite some pretty poor blocks from both the LG and C, the structure of this power run vs this defense guarantees a 3-yard pickup on 2nd & 5 and staying ahead of the chains. On the third play (at :14), be sure to note the three (!) tight ends shifting to an overload left yet provoking no defensive adjustment, letting them run right over ASU ... UCLA used this play five times before they defended it with anything different and got creamed every time.
ASU is better in pass defense, and though again that’s against two teams who prefer running, they’re still net negative at 26 successes vs 28 failures on opponent dropbacks. This would normally be where I’d devote a video to breaking down the secondary play in downfield coverage, but strangely, I hardly saw any deep passes out of their opponents and don’t really have any confident conclusions about how they’ll do at it.
I can say that, while this is certainly not Todd Graham’s blitz-happy defense any more, OC Gonzales does like bringing pressure, and got some kind of QB disruption, even if minor, on about 20% of passing plays I watched. The problem is this pressure often doesn’t get them anything:
On the first play, ASU looks like it’s bringing six but then backs the DE out … they get through but that DE is confused about whether he’s taking the RB wheel or the TE, and leaving the latter open for a quick throw gets the offense out of the jam … the safety might have gotten a pass breakup if he timed a hit to the TE’s back well, but instead he goes for the interception and has it wrestled away from him. On the second play (at :07), we’re again seeing an interesting disguise of what looks like a jailhouse blitz, but the three guys backing out to deal with the wheel/slant have no idea how to cover the TE and give up a huge gain (the flag was for targeting against the QB by #8 LB Robertson, one of their more effective players, and he’ll be out for the first half tomorrow). On the last play (at :18), ASU gets some good pressure on the QB with this 5-man rush and forces him into a back-foot throw, but the handoff of the midfield coverage is comically poor as the DE who’s pretending to be a linebacker on this blitz gets badly out of position.