I have arrived home safely from the desert, a little sleep-deprived but otherwise none the worse for the wear. Sadly, the Huskies can’t say the same, their bowl hopes — which suddenly looked so legit after the win over Arizona — taking a serious hit.
Against the wishes of my wife and kids, I went straight to my DVR to watch a replay of the final minutes and try to figure out what the heck happened (I’ll make it up to them later, promise).
You can watch it here yourself via YouTube if you’re either a Sun Devil fan or like horror movies.
And my conclusion is that final 50-yard TD that won the game for ASU with five seconds left is a little more of a systemic failure than the initial answer last night that someone simply jumped a route and left the middle wide open might indicate. Reality is that ASU QB Danny Sullivan had two wide-open WRs to throw to — Chris McGaha, who made the catch, and T.J. Simpson, who had the earlier TD reception on the reverse pass.
Here’s what I could see of the play:
It started with three ASU receivers split right — Kerry Taylor to the far right, McGaha in the middle and Simpson in the slot. Kyle Williams was split far left. ASU had five linemen up front and a back, Dimitri Nance, lined up next to Sullivan. Essentially a pretty basic trips right formation ASU runs all the time.
The Huskies, despite it being an obvious passing down, had just their regular base defense on the field — two safeties, two CBs, three LBs and four DLs. One of the DLs, end Darrion Jones, curled off into coverage at the snap as did LB Mason Foster, who lined up close to the line at the snap then dropped off to cover Nance. So the Huskies rushed just three, which gave Sullivan all kinds of time as he initially looked to his left before throwing deep.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant covered Taylor down the right sideline and cornerback Adam Long had Williams on the other side so they are pretty much out of the picture.
McGaha, as we have all written, was met after a few steps at the line by Victor Aiyewa, who then let him go — McGaha then ran into the an open middle of the field. Aiyewa appeared to curl off to chase after Taylor (the TV replay is tight, as most are, so not all the movements of all the players are visible for all the time they are in the play, unlike the high-shot coaches film, and I can’t really tell what Taylor does but Aiyewa headed in that direction).
Nate Williams was lined up farther back in his free safety role and appeared as the ball was snapped to move a little from near the left hash to the right, following Simpson. Simpson was initially tailed for a few steps by UW LB Donald Butler who then let him go. Simpson cut a few steps across the middle of the field, then headed deep.
The reference Steve Sarkisian made to a defender jumping a crossing route appears aimed at Williams for following Simpson. And Williams, as the free safety, is in essence supposed to be the last line of defense with nothing getting behind him. But watching the replay, it looks as if he didn’t cover Simpson that no one would have, and Simpson would have been wide open, as well — as it was Simpson got behind Williams anyway and as noted, would have been an option if McGaha weren’t so clearly open.
There was no other help there as E.J. Savannah lined up pretty close to the line and Simpson was by him quickly, and Butler also let him go by.
Basically, it looks as if the LBs were designed to stay mid-range and cover any crossing patterns. And the two CBs were in man coverage on the side. When Aiyewa let McGaha go, that had two ASU receivers going deep and just one safety there — Williams — who was trailing Simpson. Trufant enters the picture right at the end as McGaha catches the ball. But it looks as if he just finally broke off of Taylor — who apparently was being double-covered with Aiyewa evidently also over there — to go after McGaha.
As the TV coverage shows replays, analyst Petros Papadakis says there was “absolute confusion in the secondary” and calls it “one of the strangest plays” he’s ever seen and an “unfathomable” mental breakdown.
That’s about the only thing that seems clear.