Check The Tape – Arizona State September 10, 2012
Blech. Just know that I did this for you.
Last week we focused on the offense. This week it’s defense. So, like, just how did we have our worst defensive performance since Michigan 2010? What happened?
Brilliant offensive playcalling happened. And a defense that fell for everything. I mean everything. You could have found a quarter behind our D’s ear and our defense would scream “HOW DID YOU DO THAT??”
Oh, and also, and editor’s note: Wait, editor’s notes are supposed to be in italics with an abbreviated title.
Ed. note: I’ve added yet another improvement to Check The Tape in year three of this series. The first year was almost always my recorded thoughts after watching the tape (read: lazy). Last year was text, followed by a few with pictures, followed by not doing it for the last 4 weeks because the tape was so disgusting to watch. This year, pictures PLUS little orange boxes to point to which player I’m describing. Next week, maybe ARROWS.
To the tape…
Remember how when Tim Banks was hired he said he wants to have an extremely aggressive defense? Made most fans happy. Ask any Illini fan about our 2009 “play all receivers 8 yards off the line of scrimmage” defense and their eye will twitch.
But aggressive defenses can be picked apart as well. Like, say, Saturday night in Arizona. Arizona State kept it simple. To beat an aggressive defense, just leak a guy into the vacated space.
Hey, guess who Ashante Williams would have covered had he not blitzed? Yep, Cameron Marshall, who will not only get the first down here but cross the 50 before he’s tackled. An easy read for any QB. OLB blitzes, corner stays with the drag route, dump to the tailback leaking out.
But it gets so much worse from there.
How does a tight end with eight career catches get 10 catches for 131 yards against us? Easy. No, seriously, it was really easy. On this play, Arizona State uses the play-fake our fans have been asking for. It’s not technically “play action” like a pro-set offense, but it accomplishes the same thing: defenders biting. Here, ASU QB Taylor Kelly is pulling the ball back from Cameron Marshall, but most of our defenders are reading run play. Pay particular attention to the guy who Justin Staples (#54) is blocking.
Hey look, #87 was just blocking Staples and then leaking into the flat. Houston Bates and Staples are now in full pursuit of Kelly. Meaning safety Earnest Thomas is our only safety valve to pick up the tight end. Except Thomas (in the orange box) is still coming down hill thinking it’s a running play.
Chris Coyle (#87) wasn’t tackled until he picked up 20 yards down to the Illinois 40. Mostly because our defense aggressively pursued a running play.
But we weren’t done. And neither was Coyle. On this next play, I was in the midst of typing a “Darrius Caldwell with two great plays in the last few minutes” tweet after Caldwell got his TFL by aggressively getting outside and stopping a run for a three yard loss. But as I was typing that (I never sent it), ASU’s offensive coordinator was reacting to it. Here, TE Coyle drifts over to the weakside in motion. Notice our D getting aggressive on the snap once again (Ashante Williams on the blitz).
…Coyle is sneaking out again for another 19 yard pass play. By the time he’s a senior, Caldwell will have this read down and will tackle the tight end for a short gain. But one half-second of hesitation on a play where we’re blitzing will almost always result in a 20 yard gain for the tight end.
But then we cut the lead to 14-7 and there’s hope, right? Especially since we pinned them at the 16 with a great special teams tackle by Mason Monheim. First play of that series, guess what they do?
Yes, there were four or five more of these that I could have screencapped. But you get the picture, right? We were aggressive, and they took advantage of it all night.
This last series of screencaps I’ll call “how Robert used to succeed in playground football”. I did not have a very good arm, nor was I fast, nor was I athletic. But at recess in 5th grade, I was always picked to be quarterback. Why? Because I called plays. The other team ran the “get open” offense, but everyone always wanted to be on my team because I’d West Coast ‘em to death.
My favorite move was the “run this play, and then run the exact same play with a wrinkle” play call (seriously, I really did this – 94% of my 5th grade popularity was due to my ability to design plays in a recess huddle). It was always simple stuff. “Everybody go deep, and then on the next play, everybody act like they’re going deep but Andy stays back to catch a pass”. You know, like Arizona State did on Saturday night.
There’s Earnest Thomas closing on the receiver with Justin Green in pursuit as well.
What happened? Well, “run this play, and then run the exact same play with a wrinkle” happened.
Jamal Miles lined up in the slot for ASU, and Ashante Williams picked him up. But they sent Cameron Marshall on a wheel route out of the backfield, so Ashante had to release Miles to the safety and go pick up Marshall. Here’s Ashante leaving Miles for Marshall.
But where was the safety help? I mean, when Miles caught the ball there wasn’t anyone within 10 yards of him. Remember the whole “exact same play with a wrinkle” thing? Here’s Earnest Thomas, streaking down the field chasing a receiver with Justin Green, just like the play before…
…giving Miles all the room he needs. He wasn’t tackled until the three yard line when Justin Green doubled back to make the tackle.
I should also note that this play might not have been Thomas’ fault. I’m not sure of the assignments in that defense, but there’s a chance Justin Green should have released the streaking wide receiver to Thomas and then picked up the guy on the outside. I couldn’t tell from the angles they showed where we set up at the snap. Thinking about it, with a receiver getting to the sideline like that, it’s probably more likely Green’s responsibility than Thomas’.
Regardless, it was yet another depantsing play from Arizona State. That last picture above is stunning. A receiver leaking out and nobody anywhere close to him. Mikel-at-Michigan wide open.
The second half was more of the same (as you know). And I just can’t bring myself to wade through it. Because we have some serious issues on defense that might sink the season. As you know.