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Film Room: Arizona State

It was not a pretty day for the MSU offense, despite more than a few opportunities to put the game away early.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Late Sacks

For the first couple plays here we are going to look at the two late sacks that killed what appeared to be a potential scoring drive late in the game to put MSU ahead.

The first play came on first down after the screen to Heyward got MSU into ASU territory at the Sun Devil 42-yard line.

MSU is in shotgun with three wideouts, one tight end off the line and Heyward in the backfield with Lewerke. The tight end is going to go out for a short route, leaving just the five linemen and Heyward to stay in and block.

ASU creeps two late blitzers (yellow circles) down, along with a stand up rusher from the far side (yellow arrow) and their three down linemen. Because the two blitzers are coming from the side where the tight end is going out, it creates an instant problem.

Here you see that with the tight end releasing (green), the two rushers on the near side have free entry to the backfield. The O-Line blockers are focused on keeping the middle and far side clean. Heyward (red) is now in big trouble, forced to take on two free rushing defenders.

Heyward tries to go low and take out one of the two rushers but isn’t successful in even slowing him down. Meanwhile, one of the rushers on the far side backs out and covers the TE coming out for a pass, taking away Lewerke’s check down option. The majority of the rest of the O-Line (red) is now blocking only two ASU rushers, with Higby one-on-one against the edge rusher on the top. Right tackle Jordan Reid looks especially conspicuous within the circle not engaged with anyone.

Lewerke is a sitting duck and goes down under both the ASU rushers in the yellow circle.

Very next play, now it’s 2nd-and-fifteen. MSU just motioned Heyward out wide to the top of the screen, it has a TE (green) and White to the bottom of the formation with Jefferson in the backfield with Lewerke. ASU is once again going to bring a blitzer off the near side (red). The look they present confuses the MSU O-Line.

The down lineman across from the TE (green circle) is going to cover the TE and chip him as he comes out. ASU also drops a down lineman on the far side of the formation (yellow arrow) leaving just the nose tackle and the three stand-up rushers. MSU once again has six blockers against what ends up being just four rushers for Arizona State.

So the ball is snapped, and number eight is coming unblocked off the near side, while Jefferson takes the rusher on the far side. The entire MSU offensive line is blocking two guys in the middle (orange).

Jordan Reid (yellow) realizes what is happening way too late, and Lewerke is dead to rights again, coughs up the ball, and Reid manages to recover. But this is just a breakdown in blocking assignments. Both of these plays can be chalked up to that to an extent, as on both plays MSU had enough players to accommodate for the number of ASU pass rushers. The disguises at the line really caused the MSU O-Line problems know WHO to block.

Screen Pass

This is a play that I really did like the call in the red zone, despite the deserved heat on the play calling.

It’s first down at the ASU 16-yard line. Lewerke is under center with Scott the lone back in the backfield. They are going to bring Stewart in motion across the formation (green arrow). Then they are going to play action fake to Scott, who will then feign staying into block before slipping out to the far side.

Lewerke is going to roll slightly towards Stewart and fake the throw to him before turning around the tossing it out to Scott. The blockers (orange) are going to release and get out in front of Scott.

The misdirection works as almost half the ASU defenders on the play fall for it (red circle). Scott (yellow) is ready for the ball already in the air and has five blockers on his side of the field (orange) to lead the way for him.

Unfortunately the blocking doesn’t quite get the job done and Scott (yellow) is forced to go one-on-one as he turns upfield, but he makes a nice move and dispatches the defender with minimal effort. The path ahead looks pretty clear and he even has Sokol (orange) out in front.

Unfortunately the need to make the move initially allows 43 of ASU to catch up from the back side. He takes a perfect pursuit angle to Scott and Sokol is unable to get in his way. He comes all the way back to clip Scott just enough to force him out of bounds short of the goal line.

This would prove to be a crucial play as on second-and-goal this would happen.

MSU would come away with no points and a wasted red zone opportunity, a theme that would continue throughout the game.

Play Counts

Instead of doing another play here we are going to talk about something I noticed while watching the game from the stands of Sun Devil Stadium that I wanted to find out the numbers on when I got home. I wanted to know how many plays Michigan State ran inside the Arizona State 30-yard line before ASU got beyond the MSU 30-yard line.

The results were that Michigan State got within the ASU 30-yard line on four different drives before ASU got that deep into MSU territory. The Spartan offense ran 20 plays at or inside the Sun Devil 30 before ASU’s offense ran a single play from the same distance on MSU’s side of the field.

The first Arizona State play ran inside the MSU 30-yard line came on the final play of the THIRD QUARTER.

Think about that for a minute. Arizona State ran ONE play inside the MSU 30-yard line and had scored three points in the first three quarters of the game and Michigan State was only up by 10 points at the time. This is more than any other reason why the Spartans lost the game.

The Spartan offense officially had four red zone chances and scored one touchdown. And that touchdown play actually came from outside the red zone after a penalty set them back to first-and-25 from the ASU 31-yard line.

Michigan State controlled the first three quarters of the game but lost the game in the fourth because the scoreboard did not reflect it. This is not something new, but MSU was unable to pull out the close game, like they have so often in the past.