Breaking Down the Washington Offense

ASU came into the Stanford game last week with plenty of problems. The rush defense struggled to consistently get stops, the defense as a whole couldn’t seem to get off the field on third down, and up to that point mental errors became critical errors. After the Sun Devils’ 26-10 win over the Cardinal, those problems seemingly were taken care of, and now ASU faces a similar offense in Stanford.

With a bigger defensive front seven, that included Demetrius Cherry and Mo Latu on the front four, ASU plugged up the holes in the running game and handled Stanford with ease, despite still struggling to find a pass rush.

“I honestly think they (Stanford) were a bit shocked about the size and the physicality,” ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “We averaged about 323 pounds across the front and I think that really firmed up the run fits. We dominated the line of scrimmage all night long and I think that caught them a little bit off guard. It makes it easier for linebackers to fit up when those guys up front aren’t getting pinged out of their gaps. And we didn’t give up cheap touchdowns – if we do that, then we will continue to improve as a defense.”

Both Patterson and Todd Graham were very pleased with the way their defense played against the Cardinal. The coaches decided to roll with Demetrius Cherry at the end position opposite Marcus Hardison, and Mo Latu at the defensive tackle spot next to Jaxon Hood. The ineffectiveness of the Devil backer spot, along with a need to fill holes in the run game prompted the coaches to make the move.

It worked. And going forward both coaches expressed that we will see more and more of those two, though it should be mentioned that Stanford was a special case because of the way its offense is designed. The larger line won’t be as effective against teams that will spread you out and hurry up to prevent substitutions.

Another switch that will most likely be here to stay is the emergence of Antonio Longino at the WILL linebacker spot. The reason the coaches decided to go with Longino instead of freshman D.J. Calhoun? Experience.

“70 percent of all big plays in Division I football, it’s not great execution by the offense – it’s a misalignment or a busted assignment,” Patterson said. “That was pretty much what happened to us and we said, ‘We have to eliminate that.’ Basically it (the defense) looks like week one when I got here in spring football with Salamo (Fiso) at SAM and Antonio (Longino) at WILL. You cannot replace experience. We have got some young and talented linebackers, but we probably put too much on their plate early.”

Looking ahead now to this week’s game against Washington, Arizona State has matched up well against the Huskies in previous years and this season looks to be relatively similar.

Coming into Saturday’s matchup, Washington is averaging more yards on the ground (183.1) than they are in the air (181.4) – not exactly an ideal situation. Chris Peterson’s offense has struggled to get going as they rank last in the conference in total yards per game.

There are some positives for the Huskies, however. For one, they don’t turn the ball over – just three on the year -- and have benefited from their defense’s ability to create turnovers. Also, Washington ranks third in the conference with just 13 sacks allowed in seven games. Though that could be a product of a quick hitch passing game.

Regardless, the Sun Devil defense will need to force the Huskies’ quarterback, whether it’s sophomore Cyler Miles or redshirt freshman Troy Williams, into bad decisions.

“Taking the football away is going to be a critical part in this football game,” Patterson said. “We are doing a great job offensively of protecting the football, but we have got to step it up and I think you’ll see that. Our kids are just now starting to get a grasp of our defense. I don’t know if anybody knows this, but what we are trying to do on defense is very complex.”

Overall, the Huskies are lacking ability at the quarterback position to make consistent plays. While the scheme calls for a plethora of short to intermediate routes, there have been plenty of opportunities in games for Miles to make a play with his arm on deeper throws and failed to do so.

With that said, Peterson has had to be innovative to get his playmakers out wide the ball.

“They are very similar to some of the teams we faced earlier in that they can throw a negative route or a hitch route and it can turn into a 60-yard gain just like that,” Patterson said. “So we have got to do a great job of swarming the football, running to the ball and we can’t leave people isolated out one on one to make tackles. They have got guys who can take it to the house, and you cannot have one-play drives.”

Let’s look at a play that shows how Peterson gets his guys the ball in unique ways:

Here we see the Huskies lined up in a three-wide look with two “running backs” in the backfield next to Cyler Miles. One of the players in the backfield is explosive wide receiver John Ross.

Before the snap, Ross goes in motion to his right to the far side of the field.

When the ball is snapped, both slot receivers go straight into blocking defenders and Ross comes back to the throw from Miles for the screen. While he didn’t pick up a whole lot of yards on this play, he’s the type of guy who can take it to pay dirt on any given snap.

“They have fast, athletic receivers who are going to give us a challenge in the back end,” ASU corner Lloyd Carrington said. “We are going to have to stay on our toes and come out focused.”

That’s just one of the ways Peterson likes to scheme his players into action. You will see a lot of short passes, screens, bubbles, hitches and plenty of crossing patterns on Saturday when the Devils take on the Huskies.

Washington’s offensive scheme is very similar to that of UCLA in that it rarely goes for the deep pass, and stays in short to intermediate route concepts.

“They run the spread offense and play calls from spread looks that a lot of different teams around the country run,” Carrington said. “As far as our game plan, we know what to expect but it all just comes down to executing.”

Special teams gaining confidence

“I was very pleased,” Patterson said of the special teams play against Stanford. “And it’s just the kids, I think they are starting to understand the importance of how special teams can affect a game.

“I think because of (Stanford’s Ty) Montgomery, it made us focus a little bit more on concentration. It was a great teaching moment because now if we take that same focus, same concentration and same passion into special teams each and every week we can create field position, and set up scores which is what we did the other night.”

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