WSU-ARIZONA RECAP: The Offense

Now that the Pac-12 post and other work are out of the way, let's look back at the Arizona-WSU game. We start with the offense, which had an off and on day against the Wildcats.

The biggest point of contention stemmed from the failed double pass that led to a turnover.

Doublepass_medium

First, look the formation. The Cougars were in 11 personnel, with tight end Skylar Stormo on the right side of the formation. It does two things. Putting all three receivers on one side forces a safety to come over in coverage. Leaving the right side open and putting a tight end over there also baits the playside safety and corner into stopping the run. The setup was fine.

Next, look at the routes the receivers ran. WSU sent three into the pattern, with the inside and outside receivers running short routes in an effort to get the secondary to jump the routes. They first sell the fake by starting slowly like it's a run. It worked. The secondary hesitated and Gino Simone -- the middle receiver -- blew by the defense.

The problem stems from the blocking. At the snap, every lineman engages a defender -- except for the left tackle. Instead of stepping-up on the end, Wade Jacobson's first snap was backwards as it would be for a normal pass play. Instead of selling the run and keeping the end from getting upfield, Jacobson dropped to set a pocket like he normally would. The end gets upfield, steps in front of the throw-back and causes the turnover.

It was a mistake by a guy that was forced to slide outside mid-game after David Gonzales broke his arm. Unfortunately it was a crippling mistake.

Between the wrong blocking assignment, James Montgomery failing to look before he threw and nobody jumping on the ball, the play went all sorts of wrong. I don't have a problem with the call -- an obvious effort to get a quick strike. The issue lies in the execution, which was poor in many ways. If Jacobson sells out on the block, Simone is wide-open and that play likely goes for six. It didn't, so many are left second-guessing.

On to the notes.

  • Jeff Tuel was 18-32 for 257 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Consider, however, that his two interceptions came off tipped balls. On the first offensive series, Daniel Blackledge had a pass hit him in the hands, deflect upwards and go right into the hands of the defender. On a fade route, Tuel threw the ball a bit inside -- not where you want to throw a fade -- but Marquess Wilson got his hands on it, inadvertently tipping the ball up and into the hands of a defender.
  • Tuel also showed plenty of pocket poise against the Wildcats. When a lineman regularly in the backfield, Tuel spent most of his day stepping-up in the pocket and making a good throw. His footwork and pocket awareness continue to improve. Tuel also showed the ability to escape and take-off when necessary. While it was nice to see him gain yardage on the ground, the coaches really don't want him running with regularity. We're one big hit away from the Marshall Lobbestael experience.
  • The Arizona front four is incredibly good. The strength and speed of the defensive linemen allowed the Wildcats to rush four and drop seven regularly against WSU. As a result, the Wildcats spent most of the day bracketing Wilson and Jared Karstetter, effectively taking Karstetter out of the game. They essentially dared the slot receivers -- Blackledge, Gino Simone and Isiah Barton -- to beat them. They couldn't.
  • When Wilson did get single coverage he took advantage of it. One of the few times the offensive line gave Tuel enough time to go deep, Wilson beat single coverage and made a spectacular grab. Tuel threw the ball a good 60 yards in the air, showing off some nice touch and arm strength on the play.
  • On the first drive, WSU had fourth and one in Arizona territory. They lined up in 30 personnel, with three running backs around Tuel. Out of 30 -- which was installed before the Oregon game -- WSU has run the ball exclusively. On the fourth down play, Tuel faked the handoff, rolled right and fired to James Montgomery, who had leaked out of the backfield. Brilliant playcall.
  • The run game was non-existent again. Outside of a nice 19-yard run in the first half, Montgomery carried the ball 12 times for five yards. Yeah...
  • The case of the drops continued again for the WSU receivers. I had five drops marked and I know there were more than that.
  • Consider that Blackledge dropped a ball in the endzone, leading to a missed field goal. Reid Forrest dropped a punt-snap, leading to a touchdown. Blackledge tipped a ball, leading to an interception in Arizona territory. Wilson tipped a ball in the endzone, with the Cougars in prime scoring position. The double-pass was open but resulted in a turnover, leading to an Arizona field goal. Without these mistakes, this game likely has a very different outcome.
  • Zack Williams took a five-yard personal foul (WSU was backed up near the endzone at the time) in the second half. At the time, I thought it was a sign of frustration. After seeing the replay and talking to Jacobson, I realized why he'd taken the flag. An Arizona player grabbed Tuel by the facemask while he was on the ground and tried to rip his head off. Williams stood up for his teammate and was flagged as a result. I have no problem with it at all.
  • The Cougars got the ball back down 17 with 2:59 to go. The first play was a run, followed by four passes, a Jeff Tuel scramble and another quick pass. They weren't necessarily playing with urgency or running a hurry-up offense. Fans booed as a result. Does it even matter? There's no way they were making up 17 points and Arizona was teeing-off on Tuel all game. So I ask you, if WSU runs a hurry-up, pass-happy offense in the last two minutes and Tuel gets injured, what would the reaction be?
  • The drive ended after Tuel was sacked -- for about the billionth time -- and WSU handed the ball off for one last play. Tuel had already taken a beating and was visibly limping between snaps during the fourth quarter. I don't care about making things look closer on paper; I care about Tuel making it out alive.
So there you have it. The offense sputtered in the first half -- gaining 56 total yards, one of which came on the ground -- but showed signs of life in the second. Against a stout Arizona defense, the Cougars shot themselves in the foot far too many times. The performance was a step back, but mostly due to the mental mistakes.
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