This is a new feature we're going to try to do following each game in which we dissect a key big play with video screenshots from the recorded telecast.
In its 36-26 loss to Oregon State Saturday, Arizona State had a 19-10 lead early in the second quarter when, on a 1st and 10, Beavers' running back Terron Ward broke off a 53 yard run for a touchdown through the middle of ASU's defense.
The following is the anatomy of that play with the aid of pictures.
In these pre-snap images shown from two angles we see that Arizona State star defensive tackle Will Sutton is not on the field in this series. In his place the 3-technique tackle spot -- essentially lined up in the gap between the offensive guard and tackle -- is Mike Pennel (the key player on this play), with Jaxon Hood in his usual 1-technique position shaded off the shoulder of the center.
We also see that Oregon State is in a balanced two-tight end formation with a quarterback and two skill players in the backfield and only one receiver split wide. All 11 of its players on the field are in the first image.
ASU has its interior linebackers, Brandon Magee and Steffon Martin at four yards depth from the line of scrimmage and set in such a way they should, and are supposed to, have the A and B gaps covered regardless of which way a run play is designed. We also see boundary safety Alden Darby's pre-snap alignment in the second image, which will be important as the play unfolds.
As we move to the next images, we see the critical mistake of the play that enabled Oregon State's long touchdown run happened in the very first post-snap split second is Pennel's inexplicable decision to attempt a spin move. Pennel was likely guessing it was a pass play and trying to free himself to rush the quarterback.
Pennel's attempt was both ill-advised as well as unlucky. It wasn't what he was coached to do, and Pennel is not quick enough to effectively beat an offensive linemen with such a move and get to the quarterback. He is strictly a bull rush player who should always be exploding off the football in a forward direction.
By unfortunate coincidence for ASU, Pennel's decision enabled the Oregon State tackle to move him in the direction he was already going because it fit the Beavers' play call perfectly, and even worse, freed up the offensive guard, which proved devastating as we'll see later.
In the first of the next two pictures, it looks as though things are still not particularly dire for ASU even though Pennel has enabled himself to be completely taken out of his gap assignment. Magee and Martin are properly attempting to read the play and appear to be in relative close proximity.
It's only when you look at the second image that you get a better sense of how dire the situation is for the ASU defense, as it give a better perspective of how the blocking is setting up and the available lane in its initial stages that Ward is able to exploit by hitting it with excellent speed and quickness.
In addition to Magee's vision being largely shielded from the play by multiple bodies directly in his line of sight, Martin is in danger of being sealed off by the offensive guard that should have been dealing with Pennel in his gap. Importantly, Darby is visibly observed moving vertically toward the C-gap (outside the tackle), mistakenly in anticipation of play breaking to the outside. This is a mistake because Darby doesn't have C-gap responsibility; his assignment is to read the ball carrier and then react to ensure he's in the right location to make a play if something goes wrong ahead of him.
Ward hasn't even hit the hole yet and already we can now see clearly how this is setting up for a big play for the Beavers.
Martin is now being sealed off by the offensive guard who was able to release to the second level because of Pennel's flawed decision to spin outside.
Magee is in danger of being cut off from the ball-carrier by another lineman and Darby is now clearly mistakenly running to an area the ball carrier is not headed.
Hood has done a nice job of battling the offensive center to a veritable draw at the line of scrimmage, and if Pennel had collapsed the offensive guard with a bull rush, the lane in which Ward rushed may have been closed off entirely, but at the very least, the guard likely wouldn't have been able to release and reach Martin, who would have been in the gap to make a play on the ball carrier.
With the last couple of images we can see Magee make a last ditch attempt to get back to the rusher, Darby is hopelessly in jail because he over-committed too early, and Martin has been completely been sealed off.
Perhaps ASU's last hope of preventing the play from going for a touchdown is field side safety Keelan Johnson. On the television broadcast, viewers were told nothing of the catastrophic mistake by Pennel or the overzealous approach of Darby, only of the fact that Johnson ended up being screened out by the umpire.
But while this is true, it's much less significant than other aspects of the play, and what is also true is Johnson took an imperfect approach angle to the football and probably should have been on the other side of the official to begin with.
In our last image, we see Magee's failed attempt to dive at the feet of the rusher and Johnson's inability to make a play because he's having to transition to a different direction and Ward already approaching full speed. There is nobody else for Ward to beat on the play and he is able to race to the end zone and put Oregon State down 19-16 (following a failed PAT).
This play is emblematic of how a lot of plays unfold in the game of football. Big mistakes aren't often glaring -- this one was missed by the broadcast team as were a number of others throughout the telecast -- but directly lead to the result, in concert with other, smaller mistakes.
Pennel didn't play a bad game overall. He had some nice plays but on this particular rep he made a catastrophic decision that, when coupled with some other less severe mistakes -- Darby had the next biggest error followed by Johnson -- led to the result. If Pennel explodes forward, the guard has to contend with him, freeing Martin to make the play, probably a short gain of a couple yards even with the error by Darby.