In a game that saw them play with a hobbled quarterback, a non-existent running game, and poor defensive play, at the half last Saturday night Arizona State only found themselves down 23-10 to Colorado. If Arizona State could have got a stop on Colorado’s first series of the second half, then drove the ball and scored, Arizona State could have only been down 6 and in the ball game.
What happened though was back breaking. Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay took the ball on a basic zone running play to his left and went 75 yards for a touchdown, making the score 30-10 and seemingly putting the game out of reach. This was the same Arizona State team that came into the game ranked 5th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game at only 89.7. Colorado would rush on the night for 315 yards on 52 carries.
When you look at how this big play happened, it is not hard to see how this occurred.
On the pre-snap, Arizona State is aligned in what is a basic shade-gap defense. On this play the left defensive tackle is to play the A gap in front of him, the middle linebacker is to play the A gap on the right and watch for the flow of the play, the right defensive tackle has the B gap, and the defensive end the C gap and plays contain, meaning make sure he does not let anything outside to his right go by him.
As a former defensive coach, one thing that I taught my linebackers was never to get caught in the wash, meaning never come up so far into the line of scrimmage to get washed inside and become a “dead” player. This is a mistake that the middle linebacker for Arizona State makes. As I watched the play develop, the linebacker makes a slow, poor read on the play and does get caught up in this wash of bodies in the middle, thus taking him out of the play. When this happened, Lindsay was clear to get to the second level of the Arizona State defense for at worst a 10 yard gain.
The other issue, or really issues, on this play for Arizona State, was that they took poor tackle angles and really did not tackle well the whole game. In the frames below, you can see in the first frame that #13 for Arizona State is in no position to get his body across that of Lindsay. He allowed himself to cross his feet, become unbalanced, and then not only missed the tackle, but took out his teammate as well.
Finally, Arizona State would be left in chase mode trying to catch Lindsay, which they were unable to do. Lindsay would score and this was virtually game over at that point with the score now 30-10 Colorado.
If Arizona State hopes to compete against quality teams, they are going to have to sure up basic fundamental issues on defense. They have enough offense to score with anyone in the country when they are healthy, but as we have seen in the past, sometimes you have to make a big defensive stop. In this case, one stop and a score could have made the difference in a close win, but ended up in a blowout loss.